Merolla helps Emory reach third straight DIII College World Series

As he turns to new challenges, Paul Merolla knows it may take a while before he accepts the fact that his baseball career is over.

The former Wilton High standout, a two-time All-FCIAC pitcher, recently finished his final season at Emory University, helping the Eagles reach the NCAA Division III College World Series for the third straight year.

“It’s really going to hit me when guys start going back in the fall and start to practice,” said Merolla, who is focusing now on law school.

The 6-foot-8 right-hander ended his career as a four-year starter for Emory, located in Atlanta, Ga. He had a final record of 14-5 and an earned run average of about 3.75, with 41 appearances, including 30 starts, and 183.1 innings pitched.

In his final season, Merolla went 4-1 with a 3.61 ERA in 14 appearances (six starts), and had the first save of his college career. He struck out 39 batters in 47 and one-third innings.

In March, he hurled his second career shutout in a 5-0 win over the University of Rochester at the UAA Championships, allowing six hits and one walk while racking up a career-high eight strikeouts.

His most memorable moment — in what proved to be the final start of his career — came in the NCAA South Regional Championship, a 15-2 victory over Shenandoah University that sent Emory to its third consecutive College World Series.

Merolla held Shenandoah to four hits and two runs (one earned) over seven innings, to notch the win. He walked four and struck out three.

In the first game of the College World Series, in Appleton, Wis., Emory ran into top-ranked SUNY Cortland, losing a tough 1-0 decision. In the second game, the Eagles were eliminated by fourth-ranked Wisconsin-La Crosse, 12-3. Merolla closed out his career with two scoreless innings in relief, and three strikeouts, in the loss.

Emory finished seventh in the country, with a 34-12 record, and was ranked fifth in the final American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)/Collegiate Baseball News magazine national poll and sixth in the final rankings.

Merolla was part of an Emory pitching staff that ended the year with the top overall team earned run average (2.73) among all Division III programs.

Playoff experience, and team chemistry, were key ingredients to Emory’s success this season, Merolla said.

“The team this year was probably the best team we had. Team morale is so important and everyone was so close. We had so many returning guys that, when it came to the playoffs, they’d all been there," he said.

Over his four years, the Emory teams Merolla played on had a combined record of 125-57, three College World Series trips, and two University Athletic Association titles.

“It was all I could have hoped for in a college baseball career,” said Merolla, who will miss the playoff battles he shared over the years with his teammates. “That’s when everybody gets so close and the bond builds — going to war with those guys.”

After graduating from Wilton in 2012, Merolla made an immediate impact at Emory, going 5-2 with a 3.41 ERA to lead the team in wins as a freshman, and earning the UAA Rookie of the Year award.

A poor showing by the Eagles at the UAA tournament that year was a low point in Merolla’s time at Emory, but the disappointment with that 22-17 season served as motivation in subsequent years.

In his sophomore year, Emory produced what Merolla called a “magical” season, as the Eagles reached the Division III national championship game at the College World Series, finishing second in the country. The team’s final record was 38-13.

Merolla made nine appearances that season, with a 4-1 record and a 4.26 ERA. In an elimination game in the NCAA Regionals, he allowed two runs on five hits in a win over Bridgewater that kept Emory’s season alive. In the College World Series, he pitched a complete game against Southern Maine, scattering nine hits and allowing just three runs in another Emory win.

In 2015, Emory went 31-15 and again advanced to the College World Series, finishing seventh in the final national poll.

As a junior, Merolla posted a 3.77 ERA in seven appearances, making six starts. He held opponents to a career-low .252 average and struck out 17 batters in 31 innings.