Quantcast

BYU baseball: NCAA bid means coach’s five-year rebuilding plan is on track

First Published      Last Updated May 31 2017 08:55 pm


BYU baseball » Littlewood’s plan was to get Cougars to regionals in five years.

When coach Mike Littlewood was hired out of St. George's Dixie State College to direct the foundering BYU baseball team in June of 2012, he promised athletic director Tom Holmoe he would get the once-proud program back into the NCAA Tournament within the next five years.

"That was one of the things I had down on the set of goals in the packet I turned in, so check that off," the former BYU third baseman and college basketball referee said Tuesday before the Cougars boarded a plane for the Bay Area and the NCAA Tournament's Stanford Regional.

The Cougars (37-19) are in the Big Dance for the first time since 2002 after staving off four elimination games to win the West Coast Conference tournament for the first time. BYU, the third seed in the four-team, double-elimination event, will meet Cal State Fullerton, the second seed, at 2 p.m. MDT Thursday at Stanford University's Klein Field at Sunken Diamond. The top-seeded Cardinal (40-14) hosts fourth-seeded Sacramento State (32-27) at approximately 6 p.m.




It is a landmark appearance for BYU after a 15-year drought and represents the latest big step for Littlewood's program, which now has had four winning seasons in his five-year tenure.

Making postseason play "was a staple" of Littlewood's at Dixie, and the former Taylorsville High product and Alta High coach says it shouldn't be another 15 years before BYU gets back to the NCAAs.

"Our goal as a program is to put a regional-quality team on the field year in and year out. We feel like we've done that the last three years," Littlewood said Tuesday. "It is tough to make a regional, especially in the West Coast Conference. This year, nobody got an at-large bid. It was a little bit disappointing because as a conference we feel like we had at least two, probably three, teams worthy — Gonzaga and LMU and us — that deserved to be in there."

It appeared the Cougars were NCAA-bound last year when they started 18-1. But injuries took their toll, and BYU limped into the 2016 WCC tournament knowing it would take a miracle to win it. The Cougars lost 5-3 to Gonzaga and 7-2 to Pepperdine.

They did the opposite this season. They started slowly and were 10-11 after LMU pitcher Jake Abbot threw a perfect game against them. Then they won 23 of their next 27 before getting swept by Gonzaga in the regular-season finale, a stumble that cost them the WCC title outright.

After a 3-2 loss to No. 27 LMU in the WCC tournament opener, they got a two-run homer from catcher Bronson Larsen to turn around a game against Saint Mary's and haven't looked back.

"It was absolutely incredible," Littlewood said about winning four games in the span of 40 hours. "Last year, we felt like we were an NCAA regional team, but we knew we weren't playing well at the right time, didn't win enough games at the end, because of injuries. This year it would have been a big-time disappointment because we were fully healthy and playing pretty well until Gonzaga. Fortunately, Bronson Larsen hit that home run against St. Mary's to give us the confidence we had those first 30 games."

Littlewood said the leadership of Larsen and fellow senior Tanner Chauncey has been vital, and a pitching staff that was inconsistent most of the year rose up in Stockton, Calif., allowing just 17 runs in five games.

The Cougars are one of the best hitting teams in the country, ranking sixth in batting average (.324) and runs scored, 8.4 per game. Sophomore Brock Hale leads the team with a .399 batting average — seventh in the country — and Larsen has belted a team-high 16 homers.

Fullerton, a four-time national champion, also has great players, Littlewood said.

"They have great pitching," the coach said. "I mean, we have our work cut out for us. … We have to execute. We are going to have to play good defense and pitch well ourselves."

drew@sltrib.com

Twitter: @drewjay

 

AT A GLANCE

BYU baseball under coach Mike Littlewood

Year Record Finish

2013 32-21 Earned No. 3 seed in conference tournament, won one tournament game

2014 22-31 Finished seventh in WCC, did not make four-team conference tournament

2015 28-25 Earned No. 3 seed in conference tournament, lost both tournament games

2016 37-17 Tied for WCC regular-season title, lost both WCC tournament games

2017 37-19 Tied for WCC regular-season title, won conference tournament


COMMENTS
VIEW/POST COMMENT      ()