BEREA, Ohio -- The Baldwin Wallace University baseball team has had a lot of good teams in their history, but none have made it as far as the 2013-2014 Yellow Jackets.
Under the direction of fourth-year coach Brian Harrison, the Yellow Jackets (29-18) swept through the NCAA Regional Tournament and for the first time ever, have made the eight-team field for the NCAA Division III College World Series, which begins this afternoon in Appleton, Wisconsin, with their game against Emory.
"We're really excited, but at the same time, we want one more good week," Harrison said. "You're only as good as your leaders. You're only as good as your kids, and if you have to force them, we're not going to be very good. It's a self-motivated crew.
"Our strength of schedule has been really demanding, and because of that, we really never got on a roll. We've beaten some really good teams, but we never got hot. We never got that huge confidence factor that winning teams get. We were winning games, but down the stretch, guys made a decision. They went on a mission, and we've been playing really well over our last nine or 10 games."
After studying the history of the Baldwin Wallace baseball program under former coach Bob Fisher, Harrison said "it's crazy" to think the Yellow Jackets have never been to the College World Series before this season.
"Those teams in the mid '80s to 2000 were awesome," Harrison said. "There were some awesome, awesome teams, and the tradition here is unbelievable. I feel fortunate to take over after Coach Fisher. What he's done to not only this program, but OAC baseball, and to this community is unbelievable. I'm very fortunate, very lucky to take over after him.
"The fact that we're the first team to make a World Series, that is what it is, but Coach Fisher had plenty of teams that could've gone to the World Series. His career was unbelievable. I hope that we can just uphold the tradition that's been here, that's been set for years. That's our goal."
And the Yellow Jacket players could not be more excited about the opportunity they have to build on that tradition this weekend.
"It's pretty unbelievable," said senior pitcher Dylan Fodor. "I don't know if the feeling's really sunk in yet. Just knowing that we're the first team to make it there, and the first team since '91 to play in the Regionals, it's pretty cool."
Fellow senior pitcher Joe Capadona added, "We came from almost being out of our conference tournament to winning a Region and going to the College World Series for the first time in the school's history. It's awesome to be a part of this. It's awesome to know that I'll be going out on a team that was the first to make the World Series for BW."
For the Yellow Jackets to even make the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament, they needed the John Carroll Blue Streaks, their cross-county rival, to sweep Muskingum University on the final day of the regular season. Fortunately, for the Yellow Jackets, the Blue Streaks swept the doubleheader and knocked Muskingum out of the postseason.
Then, in the OAC Championship Game, the Blue Streaks defeated the Yellow Jackets, 6-3.
But after twice being on the brink of having their season come to an end, Baldwin Wallace swept through the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship, including a championship game in which they had to rally from a 6-1 deficit to claim a 9-7 win over Wesleyan (Connecticut).
"Each year, we've been breaking the school record for wins, and now, to do something like this, win a Regional, and now, to go to the World Series is something you always think about," said Kyle Chontos, the Yellow Jackets' junior All-American first baseman. "Now that it's here, enjoy every second of it.
"Winning the OAC Championship, that was our first and foremost goal, but we definitely talked about a National Championship and now, we're knocking on the door. We've just got to kick that door in.
"It'd be unbelievable just to be out here with this group of guys to go after a National Championship. Just to be able to share that moment with some of your best friends and the group that we have is unbelievable. Holding that trophy, knowing that you're national champs with this group of guys is going to be unbelievable."