University beat: New era for BYU baseball begins under Mike Littlewood
When BYU hired Mike Littlewood to take over the school's baseball program, his marching orders were simple move the program forward.
The Cougars, who open the 2013 campaign Friday as part of the Texas Tech's Brooks Wallace Memorial Classic, haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2002. BYU was 132-145 the last five years under Vance Law, who was fired after 13 seasons.
BYU's 19 returning letter winners understood immediately they needed to prove themselves.
"I don't know what happened here the last 10 or 12 years," Littlewood said. "It's none of my business. The first time we walked on the field in the fall, it was the most spirited practice I've been involved with. Maybe they were trying to prove themselves."
Littlewood, who played third base at BYU between 1985 and 1988, is accustomed to success. In his 16 seasons at Dixie State College, the Red Storm were 563-282 with eight conference titles and a National Junior College World Series championship in 2004. He also coached at Alta High.
Littlewood has quite a challenge for 2013. He does have five returning starters, including first team all-conference outfielder Kelton Caldwell and Fresh of the Year Jaycob Brugman, but the Cougars' depth is thin and the season could swing on an injury or two. BYU needs to finish among the top four West Coast Conference teams to qualify for the conference tournament.
"My expectations are to play hard every day," Littlewood said. "We have to be fundamentally sound. You don't fake it. We just want to concentrate on what we're good at."
Littlewood is building his program from the ground floor.
"We want to develop a winning mind set," said Littlewood. "Whether it's Dixie or Alta, baseball is baseball. We're looking for the best high school guys around. Once we put the staff in place we out every weekend. We want players to buy into the culture."
Baseball season opens
The snow is remains disgustingly deep, but the college baseball season begins Friday.
Utah opens with a three-game series at Loyola Marymount. Utah Valley heads to the Palm Springs Tournament and a season-opening doubleheader against Gonzaga and Oregon State. BYU also opens with doubleheader, playing Northern Colorado.
"We're excited to finally start our season," Utah coach Bill Kinneberg said. "It's been a good seven months of practice but now it's time to switch gears and start playing for real. Guys are ready for the most part. We have a few injuries, but we've had two good weeks of team practice and looking forward to getting to Los Angeles."
The Utes will look to improve on its 14-42 record from a season ago, its first in the Pac-12. They begin the season with a veteran pitching staff, Brock Duke, Joe Pond and Tanner Banks, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College.
Utah Valley will need quite an effort to match last season's success. The Wolverines 47 victories including 32 in a row were the most victories of any Division I school.
Young and inexperienced in places, UVU returns shortstop Kal Hatch, who batted .342, and pitcher Adam Gunn, winner of eight games with a 4.10 earned-run average.