Clash of regular season co-champs expected in WCC tourney

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Michael Rucker throws to first base against Santa Clara. Rucker improved to 11-0 on the season on May 19. (Natalie Stoker)
Michael Rucker throws to first base against Santa Clara. Rucker improved to 11-0 on the season on May 19. (Natalie Stoker)

The BYU baseball team finished the regular season in a three-way tie for first place in the West Coast Conference after sweeping Santa Clara last weekend.

Now the Cougars have their sights set on winning the conference tournament May 26-27.

The Cougars finished their regular season with a 37-14 overall record and a 18-9 WCC record.

BYU head coach Mike Littlewood is optimistic about their chances of winning the WCC tournament.

“We’ve put ourselves in a good spot,” Littlewood said. “We control our destiny and don’t need to be looking at scoreboards any more. We’re also excited to hopefully get a NCAA tournament bid, which we haven’t done in a while.”

BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s all tied for the No. 1 spot in the WCC. Pepperdine is the fourth and final team to make the conference tournament.

The Cougars will play Gonzaga on Thursday, May 26 in their first game. BYU took two of three games from the Bulldogs in April, scoring 21 runs in the three game series.

“We can beat any team in our conference,” center fielder Brennon Lund said.” We’ve got really good players and if we’re on we can beat anyone.”

Last year BYU made the conference tournament but was knocked out in the first two games by Pepperdine and San Diego.

To make it to the NCAA tournament, BYU will need to either win the conference tournament to get the automatic bid or earn an at-large bid. Thirty conference winners throughout the nation receive automatic bids and the selection committee will select the final 34 teams. While not a hard-and-fast rule, typically if a team finishes in the top 64 nationally in RPI, that team makes the tournament. The Cougars are currently ranked No. 48 in RPI.

While it seems likely the Cougars would receive an at-large bid this season, the WCC isn’t known as a baseball powerhouse. They’ve sent multiple teams to the NCAA tournament just five times in the last 10 seasons.

BYU hasn’t made it to the NCAA tournament since 2002, where they made it through three rounds before losing to USC. The Cougars have made it to the regional tournament eight times since 1980.

But the Cougars aren’t worried.

“We don’t feel like anyone’s overpowering us,” right fielder Keaton Kringlen said. “Our guys are great and we know we can do it.”

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