From the moment pitcher Durin O’Linger tapped his foot on first base to record Davidson’s final out – sending his team to the super regionals – congratulations were in order.
First from the North Carolina Tar Heels, whose College World Series dreams were dashed in their backyard. Then from the fans, who packed Boshamer Stadium to witness the Wildcats claim their first NCAA tournament berth. Even former players, many of whom spilled over from 2015 graduate David Daniels’ wedding in Charlotte, showed support for their successors.
But the real words of wisdom came later, through the speakers on the team bus.
After every win, the Davidson players cue up songs for inspiration – anything from Gucci Mane to Drake to Chance the Rapper. It’s a tradition that goes back to last year, when the team blared “No Problem” after a home win over Virginia Commonwealth secured a spot in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
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It’s carried over to this year, as players bang on the bus windows and howl along to their postgame playlist.
“It’s just all the emotion that you might not let out in the middle of the game,” third baseman Eric Jones said.
After Sunday’s 2-1 win, Post Malone’s “Congratulations” kicked off the chaos. Let the lyrics roll and think of these Wildcats, of this tournament run:
“They said I wouldn’t be nothing; now they always say, ‘Congratulations.’”
“It’s kind of fitting,” Will Robertson said.
At this point, there’s no combination of words that could surprise this Davidson squad. Robertson remembers hearing a reporter say before Sunday’s game that North Carolina, the No. 2 national seed, would clean house of the upstart Wildcats and win two straight games to escape the Chapel Hill Regional.
Can you blame them? The Tar Heels (49-14) showed shades all season of a 2013 team that won a school-record 59 games and made a run to the College World Series. Davidson (35-24) hadn’t sniffed the tournament in 115 years.
“Of course they say we’re not gonna win,” Robertson said. “We’re not supposed to win these games.”
But they do anyway – 10 times in their past 11 games, to be exact. After the team returned to campus Monday, with a crowd of 40 strong offering congratulations, coach Dick Cooke said he was still numb after coaching only the second No. 4 seed to ever sweep a regional.
He’s felt that way since early May, when the Wildcats won their final two regular-season games against UMass to earn their way into the A10 tournament in St. Louis. It was there that Davidson -- fueled by Mexican food and MVP performances from O’Linger and Alec Acosta -- won five of six games to seize its first conference title and a berth in the NCAA tournament.
“I’ll tell you when I come down off of Cloud 31,” Cooke said Monday.
He can’t feel more numb than O’Linger, who’s hurled 364 pitches in five postseason appearances. The redshirt senior said adrenaline kept him going through Sunday’s win, when he tossed 34 pitches in two innings of relief. More than an hour after his putout put the Tar Heels to rest, he was still talking to fans in the Boshamer Stadium concourse – his glove fastened on his head, his teammates waiting on the bus with their playlist cued up.
For what it’s worth, the right-hander is partial to rapper Lil’ Wayne, who is featured on “No Problem” with Chance the Rapper and 2 Chainz. If Cooke had his choice, it’d be Billy Joel and Elton John all night on the team bus, but “No Problem” has become the unofficial mantra since that 2016 win over VCU.
Davidson catcher Jake Sidwell, who made a game-saving tag of Zack Gahagan in the ninth inning, walks up to the song. Robertson says it serves as the team’s victory song. And in the midst of the team’s self-proclaimed Cinderella run, nobody – not even Texas A&M, which hosts Davidson in the super regionals -- wants any problem with the Wildcats.
C Jackson Cowart: @CJacksonCowart