WHEELING - The Wheeling Park softball team has waited an entire year for this moment.
A return trip to the state tournament.
A season ago, Coach Dee Davis' Patriots were shut out in the Class AAA championship game by Hurricane.
Wheeling Park pitcher Carly Greer and the Patriots missed out on a chance to clinch a championship last season. This season, Park makes a return trip to the state tourney looking to finish what they started.
That group, mostly comprised of juniors, are now seniors. They know this is their last chance at a title.
''We're all excited to go back,'' Patriots ace Carly Greer said. ''It was the best time of our whole junior year. All year we talked about getting back to states.''
After Park's first sectional game, an 8-6 loss to Brooke, the return trip looked as though it was in doubt.
But sometimes losses have a funny way of putting you back on the right path.
''I think it really helped us losing that game,'' Greer said. ''It kicked us into gear. We knew we had to win the next two and keep winning from here on out.''
The Patritos (18-6), who finished eighth in the final Class AAA poll of the season, look to improve on their five-game win streak at 10 a.m. Wednesday when they face Ripley (21-7) in the opener of the state tournament at Jackson Memorial Park in Vienna.
The two previously met in last season's state tournament with Park coming out on top, 8-3.
The Vikings, who defeated Greenbrier East, 6-2, in the Region Three title game, will likely throw senior ace and first-team All-State pitcher Chelsey Hager.
''She's really good,'' Greer noted. ''We were lucky to score eight runs off her (last year). They made a few errors, too. Maybe the same thing will happen and we'll play our game and beat them. I think, for the first round, it's a good matchup. Hopefully, we'll get the win.''
While the loss to Brooke helped reboot Park, a position switch has also paid dividends for the Patriots.
Senior Kelsi Johnson, who started and played most of the season at third base, is now at shortstop, while freshman Kat Donzella, the original shortstop, is at third.
Greer noted since the switch, Park hasn't lost a game.
Shortstop became an intriguing position for the Patriots as early as November when senior Marissa Tucker, who played second base last year but probably would have been switched to short, tore her ACL during basketball practice.
''Losing Marissa is something we've had to overcome, but I think we're doing a good job out there picking each other up when we make an error,'' Greer said. ''It actually helped us become closer, having to fill in that spot.''
Counting Tucker, Park lost a total of three players from last season's squad, yet, despite the experience returning to the tournament, Greer said the nerves have taken their toll.
''I've been nervous all week,'' she said. ''I'm probably the most anxious person ever. All week, I've been looking up (Ripley's) schedule and seeing who they played and what the scores were. I'm really excited to go back, but I'm really nervous.
''Sometimes nerves can hurt you, but sometimes they can help you a lot. Every big game that I've pitched in, I think I've actually pitched better because of my nerves and I'm trying harder and pitching my heart out.''
She's not the only one. Park's other pitcher, Skylar Carrington, has really come into her own during her junior season.
''Skylar does an awesome job,'' Greer said. ''She always can come in and get out of a game, get us out of the close ones. During the second Brooke game in sectionals, she really showed what she could do. We had two girls on with no outs in the bottom of the seventh and I started saying, well it was a good year, a fun last game, but she got out of it and we won. Then we won the next one and we haven't stopped since.''
With a solid duo in the circle, there's one last piece to the puzzle for Park - eliminating errors.
''One error makes five errors and five errors make 10 errors,'' Greer said. ''It just goes from there. Just like, once you get one hit, you get more hits. We've really been trying to limit our errors, which was a struggle for us at the beginning of the season, but I think we're getting a lot better.
''As of right now, all of the games that we've had to win, we've won. And we haven't made errors.''
Win or lose, Park will face two Top 10 teams in the second round in No. 1 Musselman and No. 6 Lincoln County, who knocked off Hurricane.