For three seasons, Jon Walker and Jesse Meier played for strong Birmingham Southern baseball teams.
But no matter their level of success, the Providence Christian products knew playing for postseason championships wasn't an option for their school, which was a Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference member since 2008 but wasn't eligible for the playoffs as it transitioned into NCAA Division III play.
The Panthers, and seniors Walker and Meier, finally got to play beyond the regular season this spring, and they're making the most of it. They won the SCAC Tournament in their first appearance two weeks ago, locking up a spot in NCAA Regional play, which begins Wednesday.
They weren't expected to be so dominant this season with huge graduation losses, but they've risen to the top 10 nationally and sport a 35-7 record.
"We just had fun (our first three years) and knew our senior year was when we'd put it all on the line," Walker said. "It was tough. Sophomore year, we were 34-5 and one of the best teams in the nation. But we got to the last weekend and knew we couldn't do anything else. It was pretty difficult."
Walker shared the experience with his good friend, Meier. The two have been teammates through mostly good times since they were 12-year-olds with the Georgia Shockers travel team.
"It was frustrating at times the first three years," Meier said of being ineligible for the playoffs. "I remember at the end of the year sometimes thinking, 'What now? Where could we be if we were in the playoffs?' It can be frustrating. But me and Jonny are lucky enough to be around for this last year. That makes it that much more special."
Both seniors are playing important roles, as they have throughout their college careers.
Walker, the team's starting shortstop, has a .353 batting average with five home runs and 41 RBIs. He made the All-SCAC team this season, then continued his hot hitting in the postseason.
He earned All-SCAC Tourney honors after hitting .353 with a homer, six RBIs, three doubles and a triple during tourney play.
Meier was more dominant as a junior, when he was 7-1 with a 2.70 ERA, but still has solid numbers this season. The 6-foot-4 right-hander is 5-1 with a 4.26 ERA.
The two standouts are hopeful that the season will continue past regionals to an eventual national championship. But first they have to make it through regionals, which is forcing them to miss their Birmingham Southern graduation ceremony.
But that doesn't bother them at all. They're just happy to have playoff baseball again.
"I'm definitely OK with (missing graduation)," said Walker, a business major. "I'd rather be playing baseball than standing in line for a piece of paper."
"We wouldn't want it any other way," said Meier, whose degree is in psychology. "If they have to mail us our diploma, so be it. We're just excited to still be playing baseball."
Echols, Bellavance make Peach Belt team
North Gwinnett grad Travis Echols, a senior at Georgia College and State University, and Parkview grad Kenny Bellavance, a junior at North Georgia, both made the All-Peach Belt Conference team this week.
Echols was a first-team selection after hitting .320 with six home runs and 46 RBIs. Bellavance made the second team after hitting .330 with 35 RBIs and 31 runs.
Both Bellavance (3.96 GPA/finance) and teammate Jordan Erisman (3.76 GPA/business) made the Peach Belt's All-Academic team. Erisman is a Brookwood grad.
Parkview grad Kenny Miller (3.8 GPA/mathematics) also was on the academic team. He plays for Columbus State.
Pope gets conference awards
Mill Creek's Hunter Pope had an excellent finish to his Savannah College of Art and Design career.
The senior earned Sun Conference second-team honors after hitting .338 with team highs of 74 hits, 15 stolen bases and 45 runs scored. He also had a team-best 180 assists at shortstop.
Spear, Parillo finish up strong careers
Central Gwinnett grads Jake Spear and Joseph Parillo, both seniors at Oglethorpe, finished up their college careers with big seasons.
Spear, an infielder, hit .342 with 17 RBIs and earned All-SCAC honors. Parillo, a catcher, hit .350 with three home runs and 29 RBIs.
Big week for Ole Miss' Hutcheson, Broome
Gwinnett grads Brittany Broome and Amanda Hutcheson, teammates at Ole Miss, both had good weeks.
Hutcheson, a senior from Grayson, made the SEC Community Service Team on Monday. It was the second straight year the outfielder has received the honor for her excellent work in the Oxford, Miss., community. She also received the Taylor Medal, the highest academic honor an Ole Miss student can receive.
Broome, a junior from North Gwinnett, drove in the winning run last Sunday in the Rebels' 3-2 win over South Carolina. The outfielder went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.
Dickie, Coan selected all-region
North Georgia's Melissa Dickie (Buford) and Jessica Coan (Greater Atlanta Christian) were both first-team Daktronics All-Southeast Region selections this week, and Dickie was named the region's pitcher of the year.
Dickie, a freshman, is 20-0 this season with a team-best 1.18 ERA. Coan, the region's pitcher of the year, last season is 25-7 with a 1.43 ERA in her senior season with a region-best 328 strikeouts.
Georgia College's Kelsea Martin, a Dacula grad, was a second-team selection.
More honors for Hadley
Dacula grad Alanna Hadley continues to rack up the postseason honors during her senior season at Valdosta State.
The pitcher was named a first-teamer on the Daktronics and NFCA All-South Region teams. She is 27-3 this season with a 0.97 ERA.
Court named CAA's top freshman
Georgia State's Lauren Court, a Collins Hill grad, was named the Colonial Athletic Association's Freshman of the Year this week.
Court had a scoring average of 78.73 in 10 tournaments this season. She had a pair of top-25 finishes, including her season-best finish of 22nd at the CAA Championships.
Rajek, Florida Southern having big seasons
Collins Hill's Jackie Rajek, a sophomore at Florida Southern, helped her team to first place in the NCAA Division II Super Regional Championships last week.
Rajek shot 73, 82 and 77, tying for 21st and helping her team, ranked second nationally, advance to next week's NCAA Division II National Championships.
Rajek also earned the Florida Southern Athletic Director's Scholar-Athlete Award this season. A biology major with a chemistry minor, she had a 4.0 GPA last semester.
Herbert in top 10 at regional
Greater Atlanta Christian's Emee Herbert, a freshman at Tusculum (Tenn.), fell just short of qualifying for the NCAA Division II National Championships as an individual.
Herbert placed ninth at the Super Regional and missed a playoff to advance to nationals by one stroke. She shot 74, 78 and 72.
Tech assigns numbers to Gwinnett newcomers
The three former Gwinnett standouts who signed with the Georgia Tech men's basketball program this school year have been assigned their numbers.
North Gwinnett's Chris Bolden will wear jersey No. 11, Shiloh's Robert Carter will be No. 4 and Peachtree Ridge's Corey Heyward will wear No. 30.
A few notables have worn Bolden and Carter's jersey numbers: Will Bynum, Shaun Fein and Gary Saunders (No. 11) and Chris Bosh, Alvin Jones and Dennis Scott (No. 4).
As for Heyward, the No. 30 was last worn by walk-ons Kevin Kincaid (1997-99) and Todd Harlicka (1992-95). The last Tech starter to wear No. 30 was Anthony Byrd (1982-84).
Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to email@example.com.