Andrew Dys

Fans share love of Eagles as Winthrop heads to Milwaukee for NCAA basketball tourney

Winthrop plays Butler in NCAA

The Winthrop Eagles seeded 13th, play the fourth-seeded Butler Bulldogs in Milwaukee Thursday in the NCAA Tournament March Madness big dance. The team and hundreds of fans celebrated selection Sunday at the Winthrop Coliseum.
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The Winthrop Eagles seeded 13th, play the fourth-seeded Butler Bulldogs in Milwaukee Thursday in the NCAA Tournament March Madness big dance. The team and hundreds of fans celebrated selection Sunday at the Winthrop Coliseum.

Cinderella has a date, and she will be wearing longjohns and snowshoes and a ski mask. Her pumpkin carriage will be a snowmobile.

The date is with the Butler.

You heard it here first: The Butler did it.

Did what?

Lost.

To Winthrop.

Thursday.

We can hope.

Butler University, which, like Winthrop, jumped from virtual American anonymity to national prominence through basketball, will play the Eagles in Milwaukee, Wis., on Thursday in the NCAA mens basketball tournament. The Eagles won the Big South Tournament March 5 when the team dominated Campbell for the team’s 11th NCAA appearance in what is called The Big Dance, March Madness, and so many other names.

All the names fit. It is big and it is great, and this year it will be cold.

“I just looked it up on my phone and the high there in Milwaukee today was around 25,” said Kyle Bruenning, one of the leaders of the Winthrop pep band, which will go on the trip with the team. “Pretty cold...I’m excited to go so far away and be one of the main cheering sections for Winthrop. It’s gonna be great.”

Winthrop has a chance, yet again, to knock off a team from the Midwest and this time do it in their own backyard. In 2007, Winthrop won its only NCAA Tournament game, upsetting favored Notre Dame in Spokane, Wash. The win and The Herald’s coverage of the event drew national attention and gave the team its Cinderella nickname.

We can all hope, and cheer, because The Big Dance always has upsets, and nobody has a better shot than Winthrop from Rock Hill, South Carolina, where the basketball frenzy reached a fever pitch Sunday as hundreds of fans packed the Winthrop Coliseum to watch the selection.

Head coach Pat Kelsey thanked them all, calling the fans “the 6th man,” who helped them to the tourney. Kelsey had challenged the fans, and they came through. The city and school came together as almost never before.

The players even held tiny little Eagles fans, girls 4 and 5 years old, on their laps. They shared their big day. The kids never stopped screaming and clapping and smiling.

Because without fans, basketball is math class.

After the selection, kids lined up for autographs and to meet the players. Coleman Medlin, a kid and huge fan, in the hospital just days ago, wore a red Eagles wig and wasn’t even embarrassed. His smile lit up the dark Coliseum. The players all gave him better than medicine.

They shared their joy with Coleman Medlin and hundreds of others.

Because fans love the Eagles – and the Eagles love them.

The game will be in Milwaukee, 868 miles away from Rock Hill. Milwaukee has two seasons – winter and July 4. Yes, it is March.

The low Thursday in Milwaukee is expected to be about 15 degrees. The high will be 16 degrees.

Actually – Milwaukee might get over freezing Thursday. But then again, the low in Rock Hill Thursday is forecast for 20 degrees. Maybe it is fate.

Jessy Collins, another band member, said the trip will be great no matter where the team plays. Because it is the NCAA Tournament.

“Milwaukee – never been there,” Collins said. “Pretty chilly, though.”

The Winthrop team should again be an upset favorite for those picking brackets in the tournament after a dominating season where the Eagles won as many regular season road games as any team in America. And this is a road game far closer to Butler, which will send thousands of fans. But some Winthrop fans who packed the Coliseum Sunday to roar and cheer and get autographs and be a part of something special will go too.

Maybe that magic can happen again. This week is special. Upsets do happen. The ugly stepsisters sometimes do get kicked out of the dance.

Butler, I said it first. I am a homer for Winthrop.

You are the ugly stepsister.

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