Led by Littlewood, BYU baseball exceeds expectations

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First year coach Mike Littlewood has turned the Cougar baseball team around, making the WCC Tournament in 2013 (Photo by Elliott Miller)
First-year coach Mike Littlewood has turned the Cougar baseball team around, making the WCC Tournament in 2013. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

BYU was ousted from the WCC tournament after a 7-4 loss Friday, May 24, to San Diego, but not before the team and first-year coach Mike Littlewood gave fans plenty to be encouraged by.

“I think we’ve probably exceeded everyone’s expectations but our own,” Littlewood said. “Our goal, starting the season, was to make the West Coast Conference tournament.”

The Cougars were picked by many to finish near the bottom of the WCC. With a new head coach following a disappointing 2012 season, few were optimistic about the potential of this year’s team.

BYU showed early promise by beating then-No. 2-ranked LSU and winning two of three games against No. 21 UC Irvine, but a three-game sweep at San Diego, followed by a loss to Utah in late March, dropped the Cougars to 11-13, and the team seemed to be proving the doubters right.

The season, however, was far from over. Littlewood believed in his team all along and got the best out of his players at the right time. BYU caught fire, winning all but one of its remaining conference series and 20 of its final 26 games. The Cougars won their last seven regular season games to earn a spot in the WCC tournament.

Five of those seven came against San Francisco and Saint Mary’s, two teams battling closely with the Cougars for conference standing. A sweep of Saint Mary’s helped the Cougars clinch the third seed and gave them momentum heading into the conference tournament, meeting Littlewood’s preseason goal.

“Of the 27 years I’ve coached on the high school and JC level, D-II and now this level, this was the most rewarding,” Littlewood said. “Obviously the national championship in junior college was cool, but to coach a bunch of guys who were just trying to find themselves, now we are starting to get guys who are starting to buy into it.”

Mike Littlewood, who came to BYU from Dixie State, said this season with the Cougars has been his most satisfying in 27 years of coaching. (Photo by Elliott Miller)
Mike Littlewood, who came to BYU from Dixie State, said this season with the Cougars has been his most satisfying in 27 years of coaching. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

Littlewood’s success in his first season as head coach indicates the Cougars could be on to something special. Though ousted from the conference tournament, the Cougars’ conference achievements, key wins against ranked opponents and the second best RPI in the conference (No. 52) make BYU a strong candidate for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. It would be the team’s first appearance in 11 years.

A strong season under Littlewood has given Cougar baseball fans reason to be excited for the future. Part of that future takes place now as the Cougars wait to hear if they have done enough to get an invite to the NCAA tournament. They’ve done enough, according to Littlewood, and he has certainly done enough to take his team to another level, with or without an NCAA tournament appearance.

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