East Fairmont and John Marshall have been here before when it comes to softball.

You only have to go back a year to see that the Bees and Monarchs met in the Class AAA, Region I championship last May at Mylan Park. There, John Marshall took advantage of a mainly inexperienced East squad that committed four errors leading to three unearned runs and a 6-2 Monarchs’ victory.

“We weren’t playing up to our full potential,” said senior catcher Cari Baker, whose Bees (22-8) meet John Marshall (23-4) again at 5 p.m. today in Wheeling where the winner advances to the state tournament. “We want this title more this year, mainly because of last year’s loss. I think we’ll play a lot better this time.”

Outside of three seniors and then-sophomore Ashley Morris, the rest of the Bees were making their first start in a regional final. And it showed.

Rachel Filius started in the circle that day. The right-hander allowed five runs (three earned) on eight hits in six innings before being relieved by Alli Mayle in the seventh.

“It was a tough game,” Filius recalled. “I think we psyched ourselves out a little bit too much. It was a little nerve-racking.”

Filius, a junior named North Central Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year last week, is today’s probable starter for the Bees and will likely due battle against Sarah Swoger, John Marshall’s junior ace.

Swoger relieved starter Stephanie Phillips in last year’s regional final. She ended East’s final threat with a pair of strikeouts and the tying run on base. Swoger retired all eight batters she faced to seal John Marshall’s win.

Filius and Swoger met this past March in East’s season-opening doubleheader. A run in each of the seventh and eighth innings rallied Swoger’s Monarchs past Filius’ Bees, 2-1. Swoger struck out 14, walked one and allowed only one hit — a Mayle home run. Filius fired a three-hitter with four strikeouts, but walked six. “I think we all feel pretty confident since we’ve played John Marshall a couple times,” Filius said. “We have a feel for them and the things they do. We expect to go out there and play our game as best as we can while giving 110 percent.”

East won the second game of that doubleheader, 11-1, and afterward, John Marshall head coach Pancho Flores more or less predicted today’s regional matchup.

“I hope we get a chance to play each other again,” he said. “And I think we will.”

The Bees have won four straight games and seem to be playing their best softball right now. That has led head coach Chuck Fluharty to believe that East is more focused and prepared than it was last year.

And when you’re riding into the regional championship game following an emotional yet dominating victory over cross-town rival West Fairmont, momentum is clearly behind the Bees.

“Just like our girls remembered the loss to West and responded with a win against them in the regionals, I really look for them to respond again,” Fluharty said. “They have a very vivid memory of how our season ended last year.

“The girls are confident and ready. They are really excited to be in the regional final. And they are just as excited to have an opportunity to make it back to the state tournament. I think this year they expect to go.”

After three straight trips to the state tournament, including back-to-back state championships, and a fourth denied by John Marshall last May, how much more motivation does East need?

“We don’t want the same team ending our season two years in a row,” Baker said. “John Marshall is a good team, and so are we. It’s just going to come down to who wants it more.”

With a bad taste still lingering around from East’s loss to John Marshall both last year at this very same stage and also this season’s opener, it’s safe to say this group of Bees is prepared to finish the job the right way.

“We have confidence in ourselves. We’re ready now,” Mayle said following East’s regional semifinal win. “We don’t want to end with the regional championship game as our last game. We want to go all the way.”

Enough said.

E-mail Andrew Manzo at dmanzo@timeswv.com.

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