CHARLESTON (WCIA) — Eastern Illinois baseball is on the way to its first NCAA tournament since 2008 and a midseason players only meeting may be the reason why. The Panthers (38-19) were a 15-12 team in early April with a marquee win at No. 9 Arkansas but frustrating losses up to that point. Then Eastern flipped a switch, winning 23 of its next 30 games, including the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title, punching its ticket to the Big Dance for just the third time in program history.

“The feeling of accomplishment is off the charts,” EIU head coach Jason Anderson said. “We’ve been through a lot here. We literally built this thing up from the ground. To be here, is tremendously satisfying.”

EIU is the fourth team in the Nashville Regional, hosted by the No. 6 overall seed Vanderbilt. The Panthers will face the Commodores Friday night at 7 p.m., with either Oregon or Xavier waiting in the double elimination format on Saturday.

“We went to Arkansas earlier this year and just the pure atmosphere that we’re not used to here at Eastern is something else,” EIU redshirt junior pitcher and Mattoon native Jackson Nichols said. “Now that it’s in a Regional, Vanderbilt’s obviously a really good school. It’s going to be packed there, it’s going to be loud, it’s going to be exciting.”

This will be just the third appearance for EIU in the NCAA tournament as a Division I school. The only other two times it happened were back in 2008 and 1999.