CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston baseball team's 2012 campaign began with tragedy and ended with triumph.
UC coach Tom Nozica, who had been with the team since 1969, died in October of 2011 after a short battle with cancer, leaving assistant Lee Bradley to take over the reins and try and get a bunch of players to turn their focus to the diamond.
The result was a 28-23 regular season and a 19-14 league mark that ended with UC in the West Virginia Conference tournament for the first time since 2004.
"Last year, the first thing it did is it proved how resilient they were," Bradley said of his players. "They were able to use some of the stuff that happened as a little motivation and to show some respect and all that stuff."
After last year's success, Bradley was kept on as the team's head coach and is now faced with the challenge of keeping the Golden Eagles moving in the right direction as the team opens its 2013 slate a week from today with a home doubleheader against California, Pa.
UC returns several key players from last year, including catcher Igor Molina, who hit .377 with six home runs and 37 RBIs in 2012, all team bests.
"I think [last season's success] is valuable," Bradley said. "Now the thing we're trying to do is change the expectation of this program and where we want to go and what we want to do. Now we've got to figure out how to get there.
"The big thing for us is that we're trying to build a program. You've got to crawl before you walk. Our first goal is we still want to make ourselves important in the conference setting. Once we start doing that on a yearly basis we can start talking about regionals and NCAA tournaments and that stuff."
While Charleston showed improvement last year, West Virginia State finished a disappointing 22-27 overall and 17-17 in the conference.
In fact, State's win total has dropped or stayed the same in each season since 2006, despite the fact that the Yellow Jackets claimed back-to-back WVC titles in 2007 and 2008.
It may look like gloom and doom on the surface, but consider the fact that State lost 10 players to injury last year and only graduated four seniors.
The result will be a team full of experience that coach Cal Bailey believes could be poised to make a major improvement this year.
"We're a year older, a year smarter and a year more mature," Bailey said. "We got frustrated pretty easily last year and I think they've got a better idea of what we're trying to accomplish now. We've got some good young guys coming in and some guys that stepped up that were in the middle of the pack last year that are going to be pretty good players."
Only two players that were in State's regular starting lineup last year are gone and the offense will be led by former Hurricane player Bill Smith, who was a first-team all-conference selection after hitting .419 with 34 RBIs last year.