The night before the Atlantic 10 tournament in St. Louis, Davidson shortstop Alec Acosta had a late-night craving for burritos.
El Birdos Cantina satisfied his palate – and his play. The next morning, he hit the second home run of his career in a 5-2 win over St. Bonaventure. It was the first of five home runs and eight burritos for Acosta over five days.
For infielder Eric Jones – who tallied 14 hits, one shy of the tournament record – it was the nachos. Will Robertson, Davidson’s single-season home runs leader, isn’t a man of superstition, but even the senior outfielder had a burrito before the conference title game against Virginia Commonwealth.
“All of a sudden, we started hitting,” Jones said. “So we just kept going back.”
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I feel bad for whatever No. 1 seed has to play us.
Davidson right-handed pitcher Durin O’Linger
It worked. On Saturday, the Wildcats’ 11-4 win captured their first conference championship – punching a ticket to the NCAA Regional for the first time in the program’s 115-year history.
“Everyone knows we’re gonna go win the regional …” said right-hander Durin O’Linger, who tossed 236 pitches in a four-day span. “I feel bad for whatever No. 1 seed has to play us.”
O’Linger and Acosta, the tournament co-MVPs, put on a show in the field. O’Linger, who has a 2.94 ERA this season, allowed just three runs in 14 1/3 innings. Acosta exploded for all five of his home runs on the year, including one in the finale to help Davidson rally past the Rams.
But the real show was in the dugout, where the Wildcat players photo-bombed coach Dick Cooke’s postgame interview with an impromptu haircut of senior manager James Padley – who also had pitcher Dan Spear shave a “W” into his head for every tournament win.
“If we lose,” Jones said, “we’re gonna lose having fun.”
It’s just one of many superstitions for this Davidson squad. It’s no surprise considering the team’s coach, who once ate McDonald’s for 10 straight days to aid USA Baseball’s World Cup run in 2007.
“The more relaxed you are,” Cooke said, “the easier it’s gonna be to stay locked in.”
This year, the players have been as locked in as ever. A year removed from falling short in the conference title game against Rhode Island, the happy-go-lucky Wildcats won a program-record 32 games on its way to claiming the first conference title in any sport since Davidson joined the A-10 in 2014.
“It’s pretty cool to leave the program better than we found it,” Robertson said.
Chemistry has been the buzzword since Davidson’s first practice, and it was on full display in the team’s tournament breakout in St. Louis.
Chemistry has been the buzzword since the team’s first practice, and it was on full display in the team’s tournament breakout in St. Louis.
When Jones’ struggles midway through the year got him down, his dad told him to stop pressing so much and worrying about the outcome. But most importantly, he reminded the sophomore what brought him and his teammates so much success in the first place.
“Just go play and just go have fun,” Brad Jones told his son. “And just enjoy it.”
His son did just that, lifting his batting average to .316 – joining four of his teammates in the .300 club – and recording six hits in the final doubleheader against VCU to vault his team into the next phase of postseason play.
Before the NCAA Regionals begin, the Wildcats will have one last chance to revel in their conference tournament success. The team will come together Monday at Brickhouse Tavern to watch the NCAA Selection Show, and the players will be the first in school history to see Davidson’s name flash across the screen. Cooke even booked an early return flight from Chicago – the site of his daughter’s volleyball tournament – to be with his team.
It’s a celebration none of them would miss.
“These guys are actually my brothers …” Durin said. “We don’t ever want to be apart.”