Sara Pelegreen began playing the game of softball at the ripe old age of 3 and pitching since she was 10.
Unfortunately, she's beginning to realize that sometime between Saturday and May 27, her playing career is going to end.
"I have mixed emotions about it," Pelegreen confessed during a phone interview earlier this week. "I've spent so much of my life playing this game and it's really hit me hard, but I don't know if physically, I could play another year, so it's really a bittersweet kind of thing."
The former Harrison Central all-stater, however, isn't one to dwell on the bitter part of it because she certainly loves and has a great passion for the sport.
For the second straight season, Pelegreen's collegiate season has been extended. West Virginia State, by virtue of winning the final West Virginia Conference tournament last weekend in Vienna, earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II National Tournament.
"(Winning the conference title) was amazing," Pelegreen said. "I've not had a better feeling in my entire life. To go out with a bang during your senior year is great. I am just glad we got it done."
West Virginia State won the first three games of the tournament with relative ease, which put the ball in Pelegreen's hand for the championship game against Fairmont State.
However, Fairmont State posted a 4-1 victory to force a decisive elimination game. The Yellow Jackets recorded a 3-1 victory, setting off a massive celebration.
"It didn't even hit me right away," Pelegreen said. "We just ran out on the field and did a dogpile. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't even explain it because it just hadn't registered in my head what we'd accomplished. I still don't know how to explain it."
The excitement of winning didn't end with Sara. Her brother Nick and the Harrison Central Huskies' baseball team claimed the OVAC 4A crown the same afternoon.
"I didn't get a chance to talk to him much, but we texted each other," Sara said. "He texted me before the game and said, 'let's bring home the trophies.' I got it after my game and sent back, 'it looks like we did, brother!"
The reward for the 41-12 Yellow Jackets is a trip to more than 5-hour trip to Shippensburg for the Atlantic Regional. West Virginia State, the third seed in the region, will open the tournament at noon on Friday against sixth-seeded Kutztown (29-21).
"We played Kutztown three times last year and didn't fare very well, so we really want to get some revenge on them," Pelegreen said. "We're in a pretty good bracket. Obviously, all of the teams are good, but we want to go up there and prove that we can play with the PSAC teams because it's known to be a good conference and sometimes our conference doesn't get as much respect against them."
Getting back into the tournament this season seems much sweeter for Pelegreen because there was no wait-and-see moment because of the automatic bid.
"I didn't even want to make the regional if we didn't win the conference," Pelegreen said. "Heck with the regionals, I wanted to win the conference first. Now, we can worry about the regional."
Pelegreen, who was named the WVIAC All-Tournament team, expects to get the ball for the first game of the day on Saturday because that's the rotation W.Va. State has utilized the entire season.
The second-team all-WVIAC selection is 13-3 on the season with a 1.94 earned run average. She's worked 108 innings, fanned 92 and allowed just 30 earned runs. She owns 11 complete games and three shutouts.
The Yellow Jackets enter the national tournament red hot. They've won 18 of their last 19 games. A stretch early in the season when the Jackets went south and struggled is when Pelegreen believes it just clicked for the team.
"We talked to each other, tried to figure out what was going on and what we needed to do to get better," Pelegreen said. "We knew we were a better team than what we'd been showing. I think our ability to overcome those obstacles, in the middle of the season, is what made this team special."
Pelegreen wrapped up finals earlier this week and is set to graduate with a bachelor's degree in communications.
However, she'll be missing her commencement ceremony because of the NCAA Tournament.
"I don't mind at all," Pelegreen said. "As long as softball can keep going a little bit longer, I'll be happy."
While she's finished with her undergraduate work, Pelegreen will still be in school in the fall. She's been accepted to Point Park University and will begin work toward a master's degree in mass communications and journalism.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org