Catcher Poppy Ramey, a former standout at Chapmanville, is one of just four seniors on West Virginia State's roster.
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."They've all been very important," Allen said. "Poppy catches game after game after game and you can always depend on her. She's a skinny little thing but she's tough and you could catch her five games a day and she'd do it. Desiree plays third base and hits the ball really well and Sara is our other pitcher and she's 11-4 with an ERA under 2, so all of them have been big."As of Tuesday, Lorraine's status was unknown after dealing with numbness in her throwing hand over the past few weeks. The senior ace didn't throw at all in the WVC tournament, with Pelegreen and freshman Anna Eggleston taking care of pitching duties. "It would be great to have her throw at least three or four innings for us," Allen said. "She's a great player and I hate to see her end her senior year this way. We leave Thursday morning and if she can go she will go. If not we may have her play some outfield for us."The fact that a freshman could step into a senior pitcher's shoes and still help guide the Jackets to a league title speaks to the kind of depth Allen and his staff have been able to accumulate over the past eight seasons since he took over in 2005.
State has averaged around 35 wins per year over that stretch. including another league title (2008) and two runner-up finishes (2011, 2012).Heading into a new conference in the Mountain East next year, Allen hopes to continue this new and golden era of West Virginia State softball.Advancing this weekend could go a long way toward continuing the program's ascent."I've worked extremely hard and had a lot of help from the school to make our facility one of the nicest in Division II," Allen said. "Nobody in Division II has nicer uniforms or equipment than we have and we work hard to raise money so the kids can have the best uniforms, cleats, the whole 9 yards. Kids know that our conditioning program is one of the toughest in the conference and our assistants do a fantastic job. After the kids have been here three or four months they look completely different."We're doing pretty well and we have a lot of local kids coming in and we've been fairly successful getting kids out of California and Canada."Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/Rpritt.