Braves aim to ‘do it for six’

By Rodd Baxley -

If you ask Paul O’Neil about Paul O’Neil, the head coach of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke baseball team, he’ll tell you that it’s not about Paul O’Neil.

But his players feel differently. The Braves have taken to Twitter to show their support, flooding the social media site with the hashtag #DoItFor6.

It’s too bad O’Neil won’t have the chance to see the tweets.

“I don’t have any social media, or anything like that,” said O’Neil, who wears a No. 6 jersey during games. “I don’t have a Twitter account or Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat. That’s their thing and they’re the ones out there playing.

“I try to coach them as hard as I can and do everything I can to give them the best chance of being successful. But they’re the ones who play. It’s their team, not mine.”

The hashtag has become a rally cry for the Braves, who earned a 6-2 victory over Catawba on Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA Southeast Regional at Mount Olive.

Yes, that’s six runs to support No. 6 — and winning pitcher Anthony Burke, who pitched a complete game.

“Coach (O’Neil) has put a lot into this program,” said senior Hayden Buffkin, who hit the go-ahead home run against the Indians.

“We want to reward him as best we can. We want to give him something to remember.”

O’Neil, who is in his 17th season with the Braves, has led UNCP to 553 wins, including 41 victories this season.

The hashtag was born in the middle of the team’s run to its second NCAA Tournament appearance as a program. It was the first weekend in April during an away series at Georgia Southwestern.

“It all started there,” said senior Drew Beaver, who finished with a bases-clearing double for three RBIs on Thursday.

“It’s been a long time coming.”

The Braves caught fire from that moment in Georgia, winning their next 14 games.

Improving to 2-0 in NCAA postseason openers with Thursday’s victory, UNCP (41-15) advances to face host Mount Olive (47-8) at 3 p.m. this afternoon.

It’s a familiar position for the Braves, who made their first postseason appearance in 2011 at Mount Olive. UNCP started with a pair of wins that postseason before dropping their next two games for a bitter end to the season.

But Beaver and his teammates are adamant about preventing that from happening to this year’s squad.

After all, they want to say they did it for No. 6.

“We’re finally back in a regional where we should be. … Let’s get this thing rolling.”

By Rodd Baxley

Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.

Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.


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