— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 3, 2017
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—On Selection Monday, as Davidson coach Dick Cooke anxiously waited to see where his team would be sent for the first regional in program history, he ran into a former player.
That player was texting with other former Wildcats, from all around the country. Plans were being made to watch Davidson’s first regional foray. Not only players, but people around the community. Cooke answered calls on his office phone from fans he didn’t know, asking if he could help them find tickets.
“That happens at a lot of places,” Cooke said. “I think the uniqueness of the fact that we haven’t done this 44 years in a row obviously makes it a little more special in this kind of game tonight.”
Davidson upset No. 2 national seed North Carolina at Boshamer Stadium, claiming the first NCAA Tournament victory in the program’s 115-year history.
“Biggest win in our program history, no question,” Cooke said. “Probably the biggest win of my coaching career.”
And who else would be credited with the win than senior righthander Durin O’Linger, who only last week threw 236 pitches over the course of the Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament, practically willing his team to the conference’s automatic bid. O’Linger wanted the ball again Friday night against UNC junior righthanded ace J.B. Bukauskas and outpitched him to the tune of six innings and three earned runs, while working around nine hits and a pair of walks.
Ninety-four more pitches on his arm, which along with the rest of him is headed to Florida’s pharmacy school this fall.
“I got a very caustic email from the coach of the pharmacy school baseball team at the University of Florida,” Cooke said, “questioning why I’ve been running Durin out there so many times. Why he’s throwing so many pitches. He’s afraid it might impact him next spring down there.”
More seriously though, both player and coach addressed his usage, which in today’s game will assuredly be criticized.
“I’ll be available tomorrow,” O’Linger said, laughing. “Honestly, people are going to say stuff. You’re always going to have haters. That’s fine with me. I don’t know them. I don’t really care. To be honest, I know my limitations and I know what my body can do. And I know that this is it for me.
“I will throw until my arm blows out or until (coach Cooke) stops running me out there.”
Said Cooke: “I’m not going to be the guy that will have Durin go to his grave, or have me go to the grave saying, ‘You know, Durin could have pitched against VCU that day…’ It’s an inexact science, and we’re taking that to a different level. I told him after he threw 256, ‘Hey, that’s like an average day in Japan,’ and laughed.
“If During were going to get drafted, we wouldn’t do that. But these guys want to compete.”
While O’Linger is going to be done throwing baseballs whenever Davidson’s journey ends, Bukauskas is going to be a first-round pick, potentially in the top 10, on June 12. And Davidson jumped on him from the beginning, scoring three runs in the second and once in the third, and twice in the fourth and fifth innings.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said. “I mean they went in there right out of the get go, and we had a couple things go our way in a couple innings, but I’m not going to take anything away from them, but it certainly wasn’t J.B.’s best.”
Based on earned runs allowed (six) it was Bukauskas’ worst start of the season. His usually reliable upper-80s slider was hit or miss and Davidson hit his mid-90s fastball hard as well—including a rocket double off the wall in dead center field from freshman designated hitter Brett Centracchio. The Wildcats chased Bukauskas with two outs in the third inning after walking in three straight at-bats, the last walk coming with the bases loaded.
Davidson catcher Jake Sidwell went 2-for-5 at the plate, and said there wasn’t much of a strategy going up against Bukauskas.
“See it and hit it,” Sidwell said. “Try to not think at all really. See the ball, hit the ball. That’s it.”
It worked, and now Davidson will move into the winner’s bracket Saturday, and look forward to continuing its remarkable postseason run. As Sidwell puts it, the team is just playing with house money.
“That’s our feeling right now and we’re just going out there and having fun. Staying loose. If we win, we win. It’s a blast, and we’re just hoping to extend the ride as long as we can.”
For Cooke, Friday night will be similar to a Tuesday night in early May when the Wildcats dropped a 10-inning game to the Tar Heels, 6-7.
He won’t sleep a bit.
“No chance. I’m a bad on-the-road-hotel guy after we win a game,” Cooke said. “We’ll hang out with a lot of family and friends who are in town. I spent some time with some former players during the (Florida Gulf Coast-Michigan) game that I haven’t seen in 15 years.
“And where they’ve come from, for this ballgame has been kind of extraordinary. A real testament to the bond that these guys develop as players, whether we win a lot or lose a lot, there’s just something that happens at our place. And my wife would say, folks drink that Davidson Kool-Aid. It’s kind of extraordinary.”