College baseball: Davidson's run evokes memories of Steph Curry's Cinderella season
Wonder what Steph Curry is thinking right now about his old school? But then, he’s a little busy with the NBA Finals. Maybe he missed the score from Chapel Hill Sunday night.
Davidson shocked the NCAA Tournament world before, you know, just with a larger ball. It was in Curry’s hands a lot back in 2008, when the No. 10 seed Wildcats plowed through Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin to get to the brink of a Final Four. Curry scored 40, 30 and 33 points along the way.
They just fell short, beaten by eventual national champion Kansas 59-57 in the Elite Eight. “We made history for our school. We proved a lot of people wrong,” Curry said then.
Yo Steph, they’re at it again.
Davidson went into the Chapel Hill regional as the fourth seed, and an NCAA Tournament rookie who had to hustle to even get invited. The Wildcats trailed Massachusetts 5-0 in the ninth inning of a critical late-season game to even qualify for the Atlantic 10 tournament, and rallied with seven runs, hitting four homers. Then they came the long way through the losers’ bracket to take the conference tournament and get their first NCAA bid in 115 years of baseball.
JOIN THE TEAM.
“Everyone is a daydreamer,” pitcher Durin O’Linger said. “But if you daydream too much, you get lost in the reality of what’s going on.”
Never mind they went into the regional with the highest earned run average in the field, the lowest batting average, and the worst record. Or that in three games in Chapel Hill, they had only two extra-base hits, and scored only four runs their last 22 innings.
They went 3-0, anyway, and never trailed. Not one second. The team that uses only three scholarships moved on to super regional with lots of pitching and defense. Even the vanquished were impressed.
“They came in here and did something pretty special,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said.
Davidson is the sixth No. 4 seed to win a regional under the current format. Stony Brook made a famous underdog run to the College World Series in 2014. Fresno State did even better, winning the championship in 2008.
The Wildcats seem serious about this. They started in Chapel Hill by knocking out the ACC Pitcher of the Year, Carolina’s J.B. Bukauskas, who had been 9-0.
They got 94 pitches from starter O’Linger in the first win over the Tar Heels, and 34 more out of the bullpen in the clinching victory two days later. But then, he threw 236 in the conference tournament.
Will Robertson reached base for the 52nd, 53rd and 54th consecutive games. He also gunned down the would-be tying run at the plate in the ninth Sunday night.
And this update on the legend of Alec Acosta. He’s the Wildcat who owned one home run in his three-year career until drilling five in the Atlantic 10 tournament – a stunning explosion apparently partially fueled by Mexican food.
Acosta found a cantina near the team hotel in St. Louis, where he had a burrito before the first A-10 game. He homered. Next game, another burrito, another homer. By then, his menu for the week was set. His tournament totals: Five homers, 11 RBI and eight burritos.
He had none in the regional. Maybe they have no good burrito place in Chapel Hill.
Amiable tales like that went with Davidson back in 2008, too. As the Wildcats became a national story, the small-town school was in the spotlight for its cozy charm, with its enrollment under 2,000. Free laundry for all students! Free bus transportation to Detroit and the Sweet 16 for any student who wanted to go! And how’d all the basketball recruiting factories missed Curry, so he could land in cotton country?
By the time the Wildcats got to the Sweet 16, even NBA stars were clamoring to see him at work. At courtside when he outscored Wisconsin by himself in the second half 22-20 was a guy named LeBron James.
“It shows what we’re doing here at Davidson,” Curry said that night. “It’s pretty cool to give him something to be happy about and cheer about and just entertain him.”
Nine years later, Curry is tormenting James in the NBA Finals, not entertaining him. And Davidson is back in the Cinderella business.