Davidson College has played baseball for 115 years, generally with little success. The Wildcats made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time this year, and they made a memorable debut Friday.
The No. 4 seed in the Chapel Hill Regional, Davidson pulled a huge upset by beating No. 2 national seed North Carolina 8-4.
North Carolina became the highest national seed to lose its regional opener since a No. 2 Florida lost to College of Charleston in 2014. The Gators were eliminated the next day.
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College of Charleston, however, was in the tournament for the sixth time back in 2014. Davidson had never won a baseball title of any kind before beating VCU in the Atlantic 10 final on Sunday, and the Wildcats' all-time record is more than 600 games under .500.
Davidson rocked ACC pitcher of the year J.B. Bukauskas, led 8-0 after five innings and moved to a winners' bracket game Saturday at 6 p.m. against Florida Gulf Coast, the other team that is in the national tournament for the first time. FGSU beat Michigan, putting the Wolverines into an elimination game against North Carolina.
Davidson and UNC are plenty familiar with each other. The teams have played every year since Mike Fox began coaching the Tar Heels. They had won 18 of 19 against Davidson under Fox before Friday. Carolina won this year's regular-season meeting 7-6 in 10 innings.
Friday night, Cam Johnson drove in three runs while Durin O’Linger pitched six strong innings.
Johnson’s two-run single to right gave Davidson a 3-0 lead in the second inning, part of a stunningly one-sided start. The fourth-seeded Wildcats (33-24) led 8-0 by the fifth and had chased UNC ace Bukauskas – the ACC pitcher of the year.
Bukauskas (9-1) allowed six runs before leaving in the fourth, while O’Linger (9-3) allowed three runs for the win.
Logan Warmoth and Brandon Riley hit seventh-inning homers for the Tar Heels (47-13), who were hosting a regional for the first time since 2013. UNC faces third-seeded Michigan in an elimination game Saturday.
Davidson and Florida Gulf Coast, the region’s No. 2 seed, will meet for the first time Saturday. FGC’s Nick Rivera hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning to help the Eagles beat Michigan 10-6 in the program’s first NCAA tournament game. Rivera drove in four runs to lead FGC against the third-seeded Wolverines.
BIGGEST WIN IN HISTORY
Friday’s win left the Wildcats with perhaps their most significant baseball victory in school history. No “perhaps” about it, said Dick Cooke, who in his 27th season at Davidson coached the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament victory.
“That’s the biggest win in the history of the program, right there,” said Cooke, who survived a ghastly automobile collision in 2012 to reach this point.
Mike Fox, the longtime UNC coach, referenced that accident, describing it as “horrific,” after his team’s defeat. Fox and Cooke have long been friends, and so even in defeat Fox admired the magnitude of the moment – especially for the head coach in the opposing dugout.
“I’d rather not be their first win in the NCAA tournament,” Fox said. “But, 115 years – that’s a long time.”
The Wildcats made their NCAA debut after winning the first conference title in program history, and the first league tournament championship since the school joined the Atlantic 10 in July of 2014.
Friday’s game was the 111th meeting between the Wildcats and Tar Heels. Earlier this season, Davidson led then-No. 3 North Carolina 6-3 in the ninth inning before falling 7-6 in 10 innings.
Davidson blasted four home runs in the affair, including two by senior Will Robertson.
On Thursday, Robertson became just the fifth Davidson player to garner All-American status. He was selected to the Collegiate Baseball third team, and was the only player selected from the Atlantic 10 Conference. Robertson holds multiple program records, and was named to the A-10 All-Conference First Team and All-Academic squad.
Andrew Carter and News Services contributed.
at Boshamer Stadium, Chapel Hill (ESPN3)
Davidson vs. Florida Gulf Coast: 6 p.m. Saturday