One of the best seasons in West Virginia State softball program history came to an end Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets battled their way out of the losers bracket on Friday and needed two wins against West Chester on Saturday to advance to the NCAA Division II Super Regional round of the tournament. The Golden Rams, however, had other ideas.
West Chester scored runs in bunches and made sure there was no winner-take-all second game with an 11-5 win against the Yellow Jackets to take the Atlantic 2 Regional title in Institute on the WVSU campus. It will West Chester’s third consecutive trip to the Super Regional round.
“It was a dogfight,” State coach Mattie Best said. “The girls didn’t let up and put the ball in play all the way up to the seventh inning. Unfortunately we fell short today.”
WVSU (35-16) did not get off to a great start. Starting pitching Emily Thompson lasted just four batters, walking two of them and allowing a run before State brought Emily Walker in to get the final out of the inning.
Walker then struggled in the second inning, hitting the first batter she faced then walking the next two to load the bases with no outs. Four runs would scored, with the big blow coming on a two-RBI triple by WC sophomore center fielder Annamarie Hartman as the Golden Rams (37-19) grabbed a 5-0 lead.
State, however, refused to roll over. Former Hurricane standout Paige Scruggs singled and later scored in the second inning before WVSU broke out for three runs in the third inning to cut West Chester’s lead to 5-4.
“I think we caught them off guard [in the third inning],” Best said. “I think they set back and didn’t realize that we were still trying to plug along. [West Chester] got a little nervous, but I think when they got a couple [more runs] on us they kind of settled back in and started playing ‘D.’”
Golden Rams pitcher Maegan Kavanagh settled in after the third and got some big plays from her defense along the way. State added a solo home run by former Parkersburg High standout Brittany Allison in the fifth inning, but it turned out to be the last hit WVSU would get this season.
“In the dugout we were joking because I never leave a pitcher in when they’ve scored five runs,” West Chester coach Diane Lokey said. “With the weather conditions and she knew the umpire well from the other day — it was to our advantage to keep scoring runs and keep playing ‘D’ behind her.”
The Golden Rams jumped on State pitching in the late innings. West Chester scored three in the fourth to answer State’s big third inning before taking on one in the sixth and two more in the seventh.
Kavanagh went the distance for WC, striking out three and walking two while allowing five runs — all earned — on seven hits.
For State, the two Emilys, along with a third — former Winfield High standout Emily Moore — combined to walk nine batters.
“We kind of struggled finding the strike zone with the umpire,” Best said. “At the same time we kind of came in knowing West Chester was a good hitting team.
“When opponents are playing good defense, it can take the fight out of your offense. The girls kept plugging along and putting it out there, hoping to get one to fall. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the breaks when we needed to.”
WVSU’s season may have come to an end, but it was a season for the Yellow Jacket record book. State finished with 23 regular-season Mountain East Conference wins — a program record — while winning the MEC’s South Division and serving as the regional host for the first time in program history.
“I can’t even put into words how proud [I am],” Best said. “They’ve changed the culture of this program.”