Davidson’s Journey Was A Trip of A Lifetime

Will DuBose (in red polo) does more than just the laundry for the Wildcats. He’s also an unofficial adviser and keeper of team history considering his 33-year tenure with the program.

For 33 years, Will DuBose has washed and dried the dirt-stained uniforms of a team rarely expected to win.

It’s been a great 33 years.

The first thing you’ll notice about DuBose is his effervescent smile. It’s a badge for his relentless positivity. His work is menial yet essential, both behind the scenes and front and center. He welcomes the meticulousness of his craft, and he cares little about its lack of glamour.

On this day—a Friday afternoon in early June—DuBose stands in the shaded portion of the first-base dugout at Blue Bell Park on the campus of Texas A&M, trying to stay cool in the oppressive Texas heat. A red Davidson baseball cap rests atop his head. It matches his red Davidson Wildcats polo, which is tucked into a pair of khaki shorts. Behind his thin, rectangular-framed glasses is a look of childlike wonder—blissful disbelief. What is Davidson doing here? And more importantly, how did the school 19 miles outside of Charlotte, with an enrollment of 1,950, get here?

In 115 years as a program, Davidson has never sniffed the postseason, has never stood on this sort of stage. In his 33 years as the team’s equipment manager, neither has DuBose. Did he ever think he’d be here? With Davidson? Standing in a dugout in June, with Game 1 of a super regional a mere hour away?

He laughs at the very thought of it. “You don’t dream something this much with Davidson,” he says with that signature smile.

For a two-week stretch in late-May and early June, the Wildcats dared to dream bigger than any previous team has ever dreamed before.

Davidson’s Wilson Field isn’t like Blue Bell Park. For a young player, it must be easy to walk into Texas A&M’s $24 million facility and visualize greatness, to picture its 6,100 seats occupied by raucous Aggies fans, to imagine hordes of scouts perched behind home plate.

Wilson Field doesn’t elicit anywhere near that sort of response. Up until a couple of years ago, the Davidson baseball team’s home park had a chain-link fence for an outfield wall. There’s no grounds crew. The Wildcats hold a draft before every year to decide which part of the field they’ll tend to. The players drag the infield, draw the foul lines. When poor weather rolls in, they might get a call at 10:30 at night, ‘Hey, we need to roll on the tarp!’

Their clubhouse is the size of a spacious apartment, with the team’s lockers occupying a space slightly bigger than a bedroom. There are two small offices—one for 27-year head coach Dick Cooke, the other for assistant coaches Rucker Taylor, Ryan Munger and Aaron Lynch. All three share one desk.

The road to Omaha typically doesn’t run through fields such as Davidson’s. The program’s last foray into America’s living rooms came in 2008, when Steph Curry led the Wildcats basketball team to the Elite Eight.

If this team has a Steph Curry, it’s Durin O’Linger. The redshirt senior became a college baseball cult hero with his Herculean workload in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament and the Chapel Hill Regional—a five-game stretch in which he threw 389 pitches. With his college career nearing its end and no professional prospects, O’Linger insisted on throwing as frequently as he possibly could.

He’d put on his cleats and march out to the bullpen, no matter what his coaches told him. In regional play, against No. 2 national seed North Carolina, O’Linger started Friday’s regional-opening win for the No. 4-seeded Wildcats, and he closed Sunday’s regional championship.

On a team of academics, O’Linger could be the brightest. He graduated with a 3.88 grade-point average and is bound for pharmacy school at Florida in the fall. He’s also Davidson’s fiercest competitor and one of its most vibrant personalities. He grew a Dallas Keuchel-length beard from the beginning of the season to the end. When he’s not pitching, he wears his glove on his head, on top of his hat (“I like keeping my hands free,” he says). He’s always—always—the last player off the team bus.

He also has a knack for making ridiculous claims that he adamantly defends just to rile up his teammates. They’ve started tracking them all on the clubhouse whiteboard.

“I’m a better basketball player than Draymond Green.”

“Yasiel Puig will finish top three in MVP voting.”

“Cam Newton isn’t actually athletic.”

“Barry Bonds never used PEDs.”

Just before selection Monday, after Davidson had beaten the odds and won the A-10 tournament as a No. 6 seed, O’Linger made what seemed like his boldest claim of all.

“Everyone knows we’re gonna go win the regional,” O’Linger told the Charlotte Observer. “I feel bad for whatever No. 1 has to play us.”

Maybe you can dream that much at Davidson.

Tuesday, June 6, 4 p.m.

(Photo by Tim Cowie/davdisonphotos.com)

“This is so weird,” says senior catcher Jake Sidwell as he exits the Wilson Field clubhouse and strolls into the home bullpen.

He’s staring down the first-base line, to the grassy area behind the dugout, where a group of reporters—actual news people with news cameras—have pulled a couple of his teammates aside to interview them. The Wildcats leave for College Station tomorrow.

“It’s so weird to have reporters here holding up practice,” Sidwell laughs, his white smile framed by a scruffy dark beard. After Davidson shocked the college baseball world and eliminated the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, the media attention around the Wildcats increased tenfold. Sidwell hasn’t seen this many reporters in four years at Davidson. None of the Wildcats have.

They weren’t supposed to be here. To even make the A-10 tournament, the Wildcats had to win their final regular season series of the year at Massachusetts. After dropping the first game of a double header at UMass, Davidson entered the ninth inning of the nightcap down, 5-0. The Wildcats hit four home runs and won, 7-5.

Then they won again to earn the No. 6 seed in the A-10 tournament. And then they won five of six games—O’Linger pitched in three of them—to win the first baseball championship in program history, earning their first-ever NCAA tournament berth. And then they went to Chapel Hill and won again—three times. The ninth inning of the regional championship nearly derailed them, but Sidwell smartly and athletically chased after UNC’s Brandon Riley after he missed the plate sliding into home, preserving a 2-1 lead. A batter later, O’Linger raced to cover first and recorded the final out in a bang-bang play, much to the consternation of UNC’s first-base coach.

All the while, the Wildcats have maintained their looseness. They’re not a team of future big leaguers, like teams in Power Five conferences are. The coaches only have three scholarships to use for the entire team, and they divvy it up among a dozen or so players. These Wildcats are true student-athletes. They’re here for the education. They’re here because, for many of them, Davidson was one of the few D-I schools—or the only D-I school—that would let them play.

So they have fun. In the middle of the A-10 tournament, while Cooke was doing a TV interview from the dugout, sophomore Peyton Hopkins sat behind him, holding up a bat with red-and-white tape on the handle and twirling it as if it were a barber’s pole. Team manager James Padley sat next to him, a white towel wrapped around his neck, and sophomore righthander Dan Spear took clippers and buzzed Padley’s hair straight down the middle–live on TV, right behind their head coach. Spear is the team’s go-to barber. He calls his services “Spear’s Shears.” Throughout the A-10 tournament and Chapel Hill Regional, Spear carefully shaved a “W” into Padley’s hair after every win. He’s somehow found room for eight of them.

During that same tournament, the Wildcats gathered one night to watch the documentary series “Finding Bigfoot,” and laughed at the sasquatch truthers who earnestly tried to find Bigfoot out in the wild. The players soon incorporated lines from the show into the dugout. They call it a “Squatch Rally.” When a batter reaches base, they’ll yell something like, “WE FOUND A FOOTPRINT!” Or, “DO YOU SEE THOSE RED EYES OFF IN THE DISTANCE?” Or, “THERE’S SOMETHING ON THE HILL!”

For all of the goofiness, there’s a fair amount of nerdiness as well—these are Davidson kids, after all. Players talk about quantum physics in the outfield, or the P-values of parabolic pop-ups.

“It’s either highly intellectual or completely absurd,” says lefthander Andrew Ashur, “and nothing in between.”

Today, in their last practice before they head to Texas, it’s strictly absurd.

As the reporters clear out and batting practice begins, senior outfielder Will Robertson—a second-team All-American and the team leader with 18 home runs—is taking jump shots with baseballs into a big basket of balls. At one point he jukes past an L-screen and shoots. “He comes off the screen!” he says, mocking an announcer’s voice, as the ball goes in.

As Davidson hitters start taking their hacks, baseballs fly over the fence with regularity. Power is this Davidson’s team’s calling card; they have 70 homers on the year.

At one point, 5-foot-8 senior utilityman Tyler Agard cranks one over the fence, and his teammates scream and swarm him as though he’s just hit a walk-off bomb. Agard has never homered in his collegiate career. Until this season, he hadn’t even hit one in batting practice.

“I haven’t homered in a game since freshman year of high school,” he says cheekily.

Practice drags until about 7 p.m., when associate head coach Rucker Taylor gathers the Wildcats together in a huddle near the mound. A former Vanderbilt player under Tim Corbin, Taylor is in his fifth season with Davidson, taking over recruiting duties and coaching hitters.

He talks to the Wildcats about the importance of embracing the moment—of appreciating the stage they’re about to step on and the opportunity they’ll have at Texas A&M.

“I talked to a couple of buddies who played there recently,” he tells them. “They said it’s the best atmosphere in college baseball. We can enjoy it, we can keep having fun, but what we can’t do is overlook the little things.”

In Taylor’s first two weeks on the job, in the fall of 2012, his new boss Cooke was seriously injured in a car accident—a 27-year-old woman crashed into Cooke’s van while driving impaired. The 60-year-old coach still has a lengthy scar on his right leg from the accident and walks with a slight limp; he broke his cheekbone, punctured a lung, among other injuries. Clearly, Cooke was in no condition at that time to run fall practice. His new associate had to take charge. If there was any remote positive that came from the accident, it was Taylor’s emergence.

In some ways now, Taylor is like a second head coach.

“My nature has always been to delegate,” Cooke says. “If you’re coaching for me, I don’t want you to expect me to tell you how to coach that position. We’ll talk about things, and if there’s something I want to do, I’ll do that. But (the accident) gave me the opportunity—and forced me—to sit back and watch.

“That time is still fairly foggy for me, but I know I was seeing a sense of trust being developed.”

Taylor ends his brief post-practice speech and joins the players in clearing off the field. As Taylor carries equipment back to the dugout, a middle-aged man in a maroon shirt saunters onto the field. He approaches Taylor and pulls his phone out of his pocket, pressing ‘play’ with his thumb.

“This is your theme song,” he says.

“Texas Flood” by the late blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn pumps out of his phone speaker.

“All of Davidson is watching you,” the man says. “Take the flood down to Texas.”

Practice is over. Taylor showers, then hops in his black sedan and drives a couple of miles down the road to team nutritionist Elizabeth Allred’s house. She’s sending off the team with a homemade dinner.

It’s a warm, sticky southern summer night—crickets chirping, mosquitos buzzing, lightning bugs glowing in the twilight.

The Wildcat players sit on the outside patio, chowing down on lasagna while the local news comes on the TV in front of them. They excitedly watch a segment on themselves. It starts with a 2008 clip of Steph Curry in a Davidson jersey. “We’re not the basketball team!” a couple of players joke. They’ve been getting that a lot.

Among the guests in attendance is Jim Richards, a local real estate agent and a good friend of Cooke’s. Richards graduated from Davidson in 1980. He played on the baseball team. So did his father. So did his son Jip. Richards is one of Davidson baseball’s most generous boosters and most loyal, passionate supporters. He paid for the wooden deck in right field. He helped the team replace its chain-link outfield fence. He laser-graded the field. Bought pitching machines and hitting software.

“You watch Friday Night Lights?” Taylor asks, cracking a grin. “He’s our Buddy Garrity.”

On this night, Richards can’t contain his pride. He’s a talker. His friends know to set aside an hour or two whenever they meet with him. Richards raves about the Chapel Hill Regional, he praises Taylor and the other assistant coaches, Ryan Munger and Aaron Lynch, for helping to push the team forward. He said he hopes the school realizes the vitality of the baseball program, the need for more funding. He hopes this super regional run breeds more super regional runs.

He’s beaming; he’s laughing; at times, he borders on emotion.

“The only time I thought Baseball America would talk to Davidson,” he says, finally, “is you’d be calling us when we we’d be ending the program.” 

Wednesday, June 7, 10:30 a.m.

Senior Durin O’Linger started building his legend in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, then built on it with a win and a save in the Chapel Hill Regional. He then swallowed a handful of Advil and marched to the mound to pitch the first game of the super regional. (Photo by Tim Cowie)

Have a mustache? Then wear a cowboy hat. That’s the rule.

It’s time to get on the bus to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. A smattering of fans dressed in Davidson red gathers in the parking lot outside of Wilson Field to say goodbye to what looks like a group of outlaws. Per playoff baseball tradition, each Davidson player has groomed himself to look as ridiculous as humanly possible. Padley with his eight W’s, O’Linger with his James Harden beard, too many players to name with man buns, six guys with mustaches. Those six guys decided the night before to make a Wal-Mart run and buy cheap cowboy hats. They wear them as they board the bus.

Not far along the road, the bus rolls toward Davidson Elementary School. The road is lined, on both sides, by cheering children for what seems like miles. They’re holding up signs drawn on colorful poster board. One says “COOKE-DUBOSE 2020.” Another says, “O’LINGER IS MY PHARMACIST.”

O’Linger is one of several players to hop off the bus and greet the kids, one by one, going down the line.

“Hey, why is that 45-year-old man high fiving all those kids?” jokes fellow starting pitcher Evan Roberts from the bus, pointing toward the bearded O’Linger. Roberts is easily one of the most vocal personalities on the team.

After that quick diversion, everyone hops backs on the bus. Before long, it’s time for the plane. The Wildcats are flying commercial. Mustached 20-somethings in cowboy hats sporadically dot the cabin. Most players are seated next to complete strangers. “Oh, do you play baseball?”

Upon landing in Houston, and after grabbing their bags from baggage claim, players joke, “Does anyone know where Cam is?” A couple of weeks before, junior outfielder and leadoff hitter Cam Johnson missed the team’s flight to UMass because he was in line at Bojangles’, ordering two cajun filet biscuits. When Johnson got to the gate, the man there asked him if he was with the team. He said yes. “Sorry man, they’re gone.”

Panicked, Johnson called fellow junior Josh Smutzer. “Dude. Stop the plane!” Obviously, there was nothing Smutzer could do. Johnson would have to schedule a later flight. When he finally did get to UMass, he homered three times between both games of the series-opening double header. Players have been trying to kick Johnson off their flights ever since.

They weren’t successful this time. He’s with them in Houston—although there was a brief scare when he ventured off to order a sandwich at Subway.

Now he joins them on yet another bus, this one a two-hour ride to College Station. It’s during these longer rides when the team’s antics go into overdrive. Jaret LaCagnina, a 5-foot-9 freshman lefthander, bears the brunt of Davidson’s freshman hazing. He’s tasked with explaining the bus-ride movie options to the rest of the group. LaCagnina has to stand at the front of the bus, grab the microphone and introduce himself, as if it’s his first day on the team, while his older teammates playfully harass him.

“Can everyone hear me?” he says into the microphone.

“YEAH,” they scream in unison.

“I’m Jerry, nice to meet you. Today’s movie selections ,,,”

The team rolls into the parking lot outside of Blue Bell Park in the late afternoon. The park is just as impressive from the outside as it is on the inside—an imposing, blocky, tall structure, like a fortress. An architectural feat. Players joke it’s Wilson Field 2.0.

“What did we get ourselves into?” someone asks.

Another responds: “A super regional.”

Friday, June 9, Game 1

Are you up? You up? Wake up. We have a game today.

That’s been Davidson’s go-to mantra since the A-10 tournament in St. Louis, when the Wildcats had to play 10 a.m. games. On every game day since, guys scream “Wake up!” at each other at random intervals. Today, they yell it in unison at every teammate who boards the bus. Are you up? Wake up! We’re in a super regional!

They’re all awake. The bus is as loud and as rowdy as ever as they pull into Blue Bell Park a little after noon. O’Linger is the last one off the bus, emerging from the very last seat, tan glove resting on top of his hat like always. Unsurprisingly, the Davidson ace is the one getting the ball today.

Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” blares through the stadium speakers as O’Linger stretches in the first-base dugout. “I closed my eyes, and it slipped away,” O’Linger croons with the music. “It doesn’t get much better than this,” he says. “I love Boston.”

If O’Linger is nervous heading into the most important—and potentially last—outing of his life, he doesn’t show it.

“I have a pretty eclectic music taste,” O’Linger says about 40 minutes before first pitch. “Lil Wayne is my idol. I have all of his songs on my iPod—everything he’s done.

“But I also like Prince. That hit me hard when he died. I like The Eagles, too. ‘Desperado’ is a really good song, even though it’s slow.”

A few more minutes slip away, and O’Linger reaches into the black bag next to him on the dugout bench. The future pharmacist cracks open a bottle of Advil and takes out a couple of pills. He places his glove back on his head and walks out to the bullpen.

O’Linger’s workload in the postseason stirred some controversy when ESPN’s Keith Law tweeted about the “irresponsibility” of Davidson’s usage of its ace. Even when Twitter users fired back that O’Linger was throwing the last pitches of his career, Law tweeted: At 22/23, your prefrontal cortex—the seat of judgment in the brain—is still developing. It’s on the coach to tell him no.”

Those tweets sent ripples through the Davidson clubhouse. Teammates past and present sprung to O’Linger’s defense. “Where’s his competitive spirit?” one player said of Law. Others joked O’Linger wears his glove on his head to protect his cortex.

As for O’Linger, he says simply, “He has a right to his opinion.”

Game time draws near. Evan Roberts, tomorrow’s starting pitcher, paces up and down the dugout. He’s the team’s de facto hype man. With first pitch mere minutes away, he yells sarcastically, “We’re not ready for the crowd!”

Righthanded ace Brigham Hill takes the mound for Texas A&M. The night before, at a team dinner at Torchy’s Tacos, Taylor talked about the video he watched on Hill. “His changeup scares me,” he said. “We haven’t seen a changeup like that.”

He had a right to be fearful. Hill strikes out the side in the first inning. No. 2 hitter Will Robertson comes back to the dugout and describes the pitch to his teammates. “That thing dropped like a foot.”

Now, it’s O’Linger’s turn. When he takes the mound, he’s an entirely different person than the Boston-singing person he was before the game.

“The funny thing is, every other day of the week he’s probably one of the most fun guys to talk to,” says volunteer assistant Aaron Lynch, the team’s pitching coach. “On game day, it’s different.”

Not a particularly hard-thrower—he’ll touch 89 mph on a good day—O’Linger gets by on sheer force of will. He challenges. He intimidates. But today, it’s clear he isn’t his sharpest. Maybe he’s had too much rest.

The Aggies take a 1-0 lead in the first on an RBI groundout by Braden Shewmake. An inning later, Nick Choruby drives a two-run double. An inning after that, Walker Pennington singles in another run. In the fifth, Hunter Coleman drills a two-run homer over the left-field wall to give A&M a 6-0 lead.

After every inning, O’Linger bursts back into the dugout in a fiery blaze, dropping F-bombs, making eye contact with no one. It’s classic game-day O’Linger. Exacerbating matters, his counterpart has a no-hitter through five.

At one point, O’Linger struts down the dugout steps and screams, “WAKE THE F— UP! EVERYONE!” then storms toward the clubhouse. The air is sucked out of the dugout, until catcher Sidwell cuts through the silence.

“Hey, let’s go!,” he says, as he claps his hands and walks up and down, flashing a wide, calm grin. “Let’s have some fun! We’re in a super regional right now.”

With one out in the sixth, junior outfielder and leadoff man Cam Johnson breaks up the no-hitter and the shutout with a double. He throws his arms up from second base and stares into the Davidson dugout. The Wildcats loosen up as they excitedly greet Brett Centracchio, who reached on an error by the shortstop to start the inning. The next batter, Robertson, strokes another double. Another run. More cheering. Then Alec Acosta singles. Runners on first and third. Sac fly—Brian Fortier. Davidson has cut the lead in half, 6-3, when the sixth inning ends.

In the seventh, after another error by the shortstop, Johnson strikes again, hitting the ball as high up the right-field wall as possible without hitting a home run. “How did that not go out?” O’Linger asks from the dugout bench, as another run comes in. 6-4 now. Shortstop Max Bazin walks by O’Linger and pats him on the shoulder. “And you thought we were out of this,” he says, slyly. They share a laugh.

The Wildcats chant “More meat! More meat!” as Robertson steps up for another at-bat. The right fielder rips a sac fly. More meat, indeed. It’s 6-5.

In the eighth, on his 138th pitch, O’Linger allows a two-out hit. Cooke goes out to the mound to get him, and O’Linger is treated to one of the only standing ovations the Texas A&M crowd has ever given an opposing pitcher. O’Linger’s teammates spill out of the dugout and join in on the applause. O’Linger wants little to do with it. He’s still in game mode. He steps back into the dugout with his eyes down, simmering.

A half inning later, Johnson strikes for a third time, tying the game with a single. The dugout explodes. The Wildcats have climbed all the way back. As they go to extras, Roberts hypes up his teammates, yelling “More life! More life!” in reference to Drake’s most recent mixtape.

The innings roll by, and the Wildcats try everything they can think of. Are you up? More life! More life! LaCagnina stacks eight hats on his head. Padley twirls his fingers around his head and yells, “Let’s get loco!”

No luck. In the 15th inning, Texas A&M’s George Janca pokes a walk-off single up the middle. The Aggies sprint onto the field to celebrate. It’s a 7-6 win in the longest Game 1 in super regional history.

The ride back is silent. No one says a word.

Saturday, June 10, Game 2

Jake Sidwell had five NCAA tournament hits and made the defensive play of the regional, tagging out North Carolina’s Brandon Riley to prevent the tying run from scoring in the ninth inning of the regional final.

Wearing his white, red and black Davidson uniform and thick black sunglasses, Cooke tries to impart an important lesson on his Wildcats before this 5 p.m. elimination game starts, but they’re just not getting it.

Talkin’ baseball,” he sings, trying to get ahead of the music. “The Man and Bobby Feller . . .

He motions to his players to sing with him. But he only gets blank faces in return.

They knew them all from Boston to Dubuque,” Cooke continues. “Especially Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.


His players don’t know the song—1981’s “Talkin’ Baseball” by Terry Cashman. No matter. He keeps singing anyway.

Spend any amount of time with Cooke, and there should be no mystery why his players are so loose. He’s as genuine as they come—good-natured and kind. He’s a jokester, unafraid to be self-deprecating. Family means everything; he’s a devoted husband and father to three daughters. Former Davidson pitcher Clark Beeker, now in the Twins organization, said the first thing he noticed about Cooke is that the coach brought his oldest daughter with him when he recruited him. “At first I thought he might be trying to set me up with her,” Beeker says, laughing. “But as the years went on, I realized, wow . . . his three daughters are his world. That and baseball.”

His players feed off Cooke and share his positive energy. Maybe that’s why the day after 15-inning heartbreak, they’re back to laughing. Robertson is dancing in the dugout. Acosta is talking about the burrito he had the night before; during the A-10 tournament, he ate a burrito every day and homered five times. During batting practice, players challenge Brett Centracchio to hit the train that occasionally rolls by just beyond the right-field wall. He comes close.

Davidson starts off by going loco, jumping out to a 6-2 lead in the sixth. Players throw beads around the necks of everyone who scores or gets a hit, like it’s Mardi Gras. Evan Roberts is cruising along on the mound; outside of two solo shots in the third, the lefthander has been unimpeachable.

Then, just as quickly, it falls apart.

Roberts allows a pair of baserunners in the eighth—one on a Choruby single, the other on an error by the shortstop. After Coleman hits a one-out RBI double, Cooke goes to the bullpen, calling on righthander Austin Leonard. He can’t quell the rally. Leonard hits the first batter he faces, then gives up a two-run single to Blake Kopetsky. Suddenly, it’s a 6-5 game.

A strikeout. Then a walk to load the bases with two outs. Righthander Allen Barry enters the game and gets pinch-hitter Jorge Gutierrez to pop up—this should end the rally and preserve the lead. But with Aggies fans screaming at ear-piercing decibels, Acosta and third baseman Eric Jones miscommunicate. Jones barrels into Acosta as the second baseman goes to catch the ball. Acosta is knocked to the ground. The ball slips out of his glove. The umps rule no catch, and two runs come across, giving the Aggies a 7-6 lead. Athletic trainer Laura Mancuso runs out to check on Acosta, who is clearly hurt and slumped on the ground. At the same time, Cooke runs out to argue with the umpire on the call. Davidson fans in the stands and on social media are in uproar over the ruling; they think Acosta had possession of the ball. Having chaired the NCAA Rules Committee in the past, Cooke is familiar with the ruling and is satisfied with the call. The umpires got it right.

 Acosta exits the field, walking into the dugout and looking dazed. He’s concussed. He asks three times if the Wildcats are playing in regionals or super regionals. Senior Tyler Agard, who hit that batting practice home run earlier in the week, enters the game at second base.

The bleeding continues. Choruby caps off the seven-run Texas A&M inning with a two-run single. In the top of the ninth, Walker Pennington hits a three-run shot against the righthander Smutzer. Smutz returns to the dugout bench, sitting by himself, staring out at the field, moisture welling in his eyes. The deficit has swelled to 12-6. The Wildcats lose by that score.

After the final out, the Aggies catapult out of their dugout and launch into a dogpile in the middle of the field. Robertson has his hands on his head in the dugout, pacing back and forth, in tears.

Slowly, the Wildcats make their way single-file onto the field, to exchange handshakes with their opponents. They gather around Cooke in center field. He tells them about the travel plans for tomorrow. He reminds them to thank the alumni who came out to see them. This isn’t the time or the place for final goodbyes. That  will come later.

Taylor gathers the group to share his own words, trying to talk over the Aggies fans raging on in the background.

“What you’ve all done is really change this program,” he tells them. “ . . . At some point down the road, what you accomplished this year, you’ll understand.”

“Be proud, be proud, be proud,” Taylor finishes, with three claps for emphasis. “Because you guys changed this.”

Agard, who made the final out, slumps to his knees and stares out at the scoreboard in left center. The tears flow as he tries to process it all—the end of this run, the end of this season, the end of his career, the end of this team.

Agard doesn’t move for what feels like hours. Finally, he bends downward, lying prone on Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park—on the largest stage he’s ever known.

He presses his lips to the grass and kisses all of it goodbye.

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