CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It has taken a year and five days, 42 wins and a gritty and successful performance in the final West Virginia Conference tournament, but when the West Virginia State softball team returns to the Atlantic Regional on Friday it will be a familiar and menacing foe standing across the diamond.
The Yellow Jackets fell just short of winning the conference tournament in 2012 but still made the Atlantic Regional as an at-large team. State won its first game by blanking Indiana, Pa., 5-0, but host Kutztown started the team's undoing with a 3-0 conquest over the Jackets before Indiana finished them off with a 3-2 win.
Now as conference champions, State will make another run into the NCAA tournament. Even though the site of the regional has changed from Kutztown, Pa., to Shippensburg, Pa., it will be the same ol' Bears the Jackets will have to overcome at noon on Friday.
State will enter the tournament as the No. 3 seed while Kutztown is No. 6, but none of that much matters to the Yellow Jackets.
"Oh, there's some motivation there," Yellow Jackets coach Bob Allen said. "Kutztown is kind of hot right now. They had a horrible first part of the year and then snuck into the [Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference] tournament and went ahead and won it, so they're playing good ball right now.
"I think Shippensburg will probably have a little nicer facilities to play on and I think our kids will love it. They're very excited to go. They could be playing UCLA and they wouldn't care, they'll be ready to go."
The Yellow Jackets (41-12) have been reliably ready to go over the past couple of months, winning 17 in a row before a loss in the first game of the WVC championship round before coming back to defeat Fairmont State in the second game, claiming the school's second league title.
"It's something they can never take away from us," Allen said of winning the conference's last championship. "We've got great kids, they're in excellent shape and we work hard to get them there. We were disappointed when we went up to Fairmont at the beginning of the year and got swept, but from that point on I feel like we've gotten better every time we've played."
State has done a lot of its damage while riding the WVC's best offense (.329 team average), led by Sabrina Schouten's .445 average, tops in the league among everyday players.
Senior pitchers Kelsey Lorraine and Sara Pelegreen also rank among the top 10 in the league in ERA with Lorraine's mark of 1.43 in 20 games setting the pace. The duo has combined for a 25-8 record.
Catcher and former Chapmanville player Poppy Ramey and infielder Desiree Giffin are the only other two seniors on the roster but Allen said all have been vital to the team's success.