Justin Lambert arrived on the Wisconsin-Whitewater campus in 2003 ready to fulfill his dream of playing college baseball. At least that was how things were suppossed to go.

But his dream was derailed when alchohol became his new best friend. Instead of hitting the books, he hit the party scene and began drinking away the potential that earned him a shot to play baseball for the War Hawks in the first place.

Going to class? Forget about it. It was optional. "I didn't really grasp the school aspect of being a student-athlete," Lambert said. "I didn't go to class much because I was too busy partying and having fun. It was a complete lack of maturity on my part. I was kicked off the team because of my grades and left school."

Lambert had successfully thrown his future as a college athlete away like a wild pitch. And for the next six years he would spend his time working a regular job. He worked in construction and lived on his own.

Real life, as it turns out, wasn't nearly as much fun as being a part of a team. "You learn that your bills take priority and that you have to go to work to pay those bills," Lambert said. "The time off [from school] made me realize how much I mised playing baseball and I decided I wanted go back to school."

Life is different for Lambert now. He is back in school, returning to Whitewater in the fall of 2010, and is one of the reasons the War Hawks are in the Division III national tournament this week.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound right-hander pitched the final four innings of the Midwest Regional championship game against St. Scholastica and propelled Whitewater to a 6-3 victory. He did not allow a run and gave up just three hits while striking out two. He retired the side in the ninth as the War Hawks (36-11) advanced to nationals for the fourth time in eight years.

Games 14
Starts 8
Wins 5
Losses 4
ERA 3.99
Innings 67.2
Hits 78
Runs 35
Earned Runs 30
Walks 19
Strikeouts 41

Lambert also has shined in the classroom this year, making the Dean's List during the fall semester. "Everything comes easier when you put the time and effort into it," Lambert said. "I understand the the importance of going to school and I think that has helped make me the person I am today."

Whitewater head coach John Vodenlich is proud of the fact that Lambert has learned from his experience and became a better student and athlete because of it. "Justin has used his experiences and challenges in his life to become a respected leader on our team," Vodenlich said. "His maturity and composure are evident day in and day out, both on and off the field."

Lambert is 5-4 this season with a 3.99 ERA. The sophomore has struck out 41 and has issued only 19 walks. "I feel like I have improved 10-fold as a player," Lambert said. "I was always a hard thrower, but I've gotten a lot better at hitting my spots. That is something I've really worked hard on and I am always working to get better as a pitcher."

Whitewater begins its quest for its first national championship in 2005 on Friday when the War Hawks battle Buena Vista (32-16) in the opening round of the national tourney at Fox Cities Stadium.

Lambert understands how fortunate he is to be in this position and is thankful for the second chance he has been given to showcase his skills. "It's really hard to put into words what it all means," Lambert said. "I am very lucky and feel blessed that I've been given this opportunity."

Vodenlich believes Lambert has only begun to tap into his potential. "He is a success story with so many chapters still to be written," Vodenlich said.

Win or lose at nationals, Lambert is already a winner. What he has accomplished is worth more than any trophy, although Lambert wouldn't mind capping this remarkable season off with a national championship.

"There is no doubt that we have a chance to win it," Lambert said. "We are capable of playing with any team in the country and if we play our best baseball, we'll give ourselves a great chance to win the title."

Division III Baseball Championship Bracket