Four additional pitchers. Twenty-two newcomers. Returned missionaries. Junior college transfers. More options with which to win. These are some of the characteristics BYU head coach Mike Littlewood noted about his 2014 baseball team.
Littlewood is happy with the way the team is meshing and looks forward to battling it out on the diamond with conference opponents.
“We have returned missionaries and high school guys and JC transfers and returners, so trying to get them all on the same page was one of our main goals coming into the fall. The team has done a great job coming together,” Littlewood said.
One of the team’s strengths this season is its depth. Last season, Littlewood often had to play the same nine players all game, every game. This season, with more players on the roster, Littlewood looks forward to having more options to win games.
“We have a better opportunity for match-ups with hitting and pitching,” Littlewood said. “We have four or five left-handed pitchers that can really help us. Depth-wise last year we had six pitchers to go to; this year we have 10, and we’re probably two players deep at each position as well. We just have more choices.”
This will be an advantage as the Cougars prepare to face their WCC competition this spring. Last season, Littlewood focused on pulling the team out of its rut and instilled in them a deeper drive to stay in the fight.
“The guys had it in them before we got here, but sometimes you get caught in a rut for some reason. … We just tried to bring some excitement, some competitiveness out and accountability,” Littlewood said. “You have to go out and have fun, but you have to compete while doing it. You can be a good person … but when you cross the white line, you have to go compete. It’s a fight.”
Littlewood also had the players read “Lone Survivor,” a true story about four men who battled their way out of enemy lines in the Middle East. The book’s themes continue in the program today.
“One of the mottos is ‘Be in the fight.’ No matter what the score is, whether you’re up five, down five or tie game, you have to keep battling, just be willing to go compete every pitch,” Littlewood said.
The older players brought that attitude and influenced the younger players to adapt to it. That determination will give them the fight they need to succeed this season. Conference foes such as San Diego, who beat them five times last season, are just one of Littlewood’s concerns.
“Every single week it seems like you’re in a dog fight, so every opponent in league concerns me. I think right now we’re really focused on Kansas. On Feb. 14 we want to open up the season well and win that series,” Littlewood said.
With greater depth, new faces and tough competition, the 2014 season looks to be a challenging, exciting one for the team. Littlewood confides in this season’s players and says their diversity will be a big strength they can draw from.
In his career, Littlewood learned to stick to the basics. He focuses on the fundamentals and runs a lot of team situation drills to prevent any curveballs during games.
“My overall philosophy is just be fundamentally sound and play catch. It sounds kind of elementary, but that’s what it comes down to,” Littlewood said. “You think you’d have a grand answer, but really it’s the simple things that win games so that’s the philosophy we have, and a good, overall fundamentally sound team that will play catch is all we really want.”
In Littlewood’s first season as head coach in 2013, the Cougars finished fourth in the WCC. They return All-Conference first baseman Brock Whitney and All-Conference honorable mentions infielder Hayden Nielsen and pitcher Desmond Poulson.
Their season begins Feb. 14 at Kansas.