For the fourth time in the program’s history, the Emory Eagles have made it to the Division III College World Series, held in Appleton, Wis.. They will play the Ohio Athletic Conference Baldwin Wallace University Yellow Jackets in the first round of the final eight-team, double-elimination bracket this afternoon at 2:15pm.

“Whenever we ran sprints or got up early or stayed working late, it was for the World Series. Now, we’re going. Everything we’ve been talking about for three years is actually happening,” senior catcher Jared Welch said.

Unlike in some other collegiate conferences, such as the Centennial Conference and the New England Small College Athletic Conference, winning the University Athletic Association championship, as the Eagles did in mid-March, does not guarantee placement in the regional rounds of the national championship. Nonetheless, the 29-10 regular season Eagles were confident they would be selected this year, Welch said.

In their second game of the double-elimination World Series qualifying South Region Tournament, the Eagles fell to the strong pitching of Bridgewater College (Va.).

“We realized, if we lose one more, we’re done. We had our back against the wall and had to either win or go home,” All-South junior outfielder, who leads all Division III players with 64 RBIs and the Eagles with a .430 batting average, Brett Lake said.

The team fought hard and pulled ahead in the eighth inning of their next game to defeat Rhodes College (Tenn.) 4-3 and was later victorious over Shenandoah University (Va.) 12-3.

“Losing another game meant the end of our seniors’ seasons at Emory. We didn’t want that to happen,” junior outfielder Wes Peacock said.

The Eagles went on to outscore Bridgewater 11-3 and 5-2 in the final round of the qualifier.

Welch, who started every game this season, was the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

“I, along with the rest of the team, have always played better with better competition. We play down for worse teams and we play to the level of good teams. Here, we played the best teams in the South. It was crunch time,” Welch said.

Welch is a hopeful in the 2014 Major League Baseball draft, which begins June 5, but plans to continue playing whether he is selected or not.

“Baseball has been my life for as long as I can remember and I’m not going to let somebody tell me I can’t play,” he said.

Although Emory made the South Region Tournament in 2012, the team has not made it to Appleton since 2007.

“This was the year we could have had the past four years. Every year we’ve taken what we’ve learned and put it into practice. We’ve always had talent, but baseball is so much more than that,” Welch said.

The team this year is as close-knit as ever.

“We play together really well and get along really well. We’re like a family,” Peacock said.

And the family of Emory baseball players Peacock spoke of doesn’t graduate, but rather grows year to year. As the current Eagles have moved forward in their journey to Appleton, they have experienced great support from the alumni of the program.

“They’ve been sending us emails that say, ‘Give ’em hell,’ and changing their Facebook profile pics to themselves playing back in the day,” Peacock said.

An alumni event held every fall has allowed former players to stay in touch with current ones.

“I know them all by name and have all their numbers. We’re all part of a family. They know what it was like and they want us to experience the same things,” Welch said.

The Eagle family even started a new tradition, a lucky bush that accompanied them in the dugout throughout the South Region Tournament and that Lake assured, “will be with us in Appleton.”

Although only 25 of the 37 Eagles will be allowed to be rostered in the coming games, most of the others are traveling and will be in the dugout.

“They’re just as much a part of this team as anyone else,” Peacock said.

The eight teams the Eagles will begin matching up against starting Friday will include Linfield College (Ore.), which won the Championship last year, and the University of Southern Maine, which finished second. Regardless, the Eagles are confident against any team.

“We’ll just have to prepare like we’ve been preparing all year. All the teams there deserve to be there. We can’t take anything for granted,” Peacock said.

The games will be available via live stream on the NCAA website.

“I, along with everyone else, am just so excited to get to play baseball one more time,” Welch said.

– By>Zak Hudak

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