Despite faltering, BYU baseball proud of ‘special’ season

BYU Baseball player gets a hit against Pepperdine on March 13.
A BYU baseball player gets a hit against Pepperdine on March 13. The cougars battled multiple injuries this year on the mound to finish the season with a 37-19 record.

The BYU baseball team went from being ranked No. 16 in the nation and one of the nation’s leaders in team batting averages averages, to being the first team eliminated from the West Coast Conference tournament.

A number of injuries ultimately doomed the Cougars. But head coach Mike Littlewood is proud of his team, despite the disappointing finish.

“I’ve got nothing but pride for the way our guys battled through the course of the season as we sustained key injury after injury,” Littlewood said. “It’s hard not to have negative thoughts when our season ended so abruptly, but as a few days have passed by I realize what a special season it was.”

The first pitcher to get injured was No. 2 starter Kendall Motes, who was sidelined in February and then redshirted for the rest of the season. Maverik Buffo was then moved up to take the spot of Motes, but sustained a season-ending elbow injury two months later.

Hayden Rodgers then stepped up but likewise got injured. Finally Conner Williams was bumped up to the No. 2 spot but was out from April to mid-May with a sore arm.

“Losing those guys was really tough,” said catcher Bronson Larsen. “But seeing our other guys step up to fill in the gaps for the team helped us stay focused.”

BYU baseball was a force to be reckoned with through mid-season when the team was healthy. They dominated their opponents and found themselves with a 27-4 record in early April. Star pitcher Michael Rucker led the team, going undefeated until his final start of the season. Centerfielder Brennon Lund and catcher/first baseman Colton Shaver carried the offense. Lund hit .387 on the season and Shaver led the team with 10 homeruns and 57 runs batted in.

The team won 12 of 23 games down the final stretch of the regular season, good enough to earn them a share of the WCC regular season championship.

But things came crashing down for the Cougars in the WCC tournament. The team lost to both Gonzaga and Pepperdine, essentially ending their chances at receiving an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.

“I’m trying not to focus on the last two games of the tournament and focus on the direction this program is going,” Littlewood said. “We won a WCC league championship, won 37 games and finished the regular season ranked No. 30 in the country. The simple fact is that in the end, we couldn’t overcome our pitching injuries and we ran into two pitchers in the tournament that were virtually unhittable those days.”

Although they didn’t go as far into the postseason as they would’ve liked, the team hopes next year will be a different story.

“We feel good about the guys we have coming back and the guys we have signed coming in,” Littlewood said. “We will have to see what the draft brings next week, but we have a chance to be really good next year.”

The Cougars will be without senior leftfielder Eric Urry next year. However, there is a possibility that Rucker, Lund and Bronson Larsen each get drafted in the 2016 MLB Draft. They’ll have until the end of June to decide whether to stay in college or go pro, if drafted.

“My wife and I have had many long conversations about the draft,” Rucker said. “We’ll just have to wait and see. It’s my dream to play pro ball, but it comes with a lot of sacrifices.”

The Cougars now head off to various summer leagues around the country and will return to BYU in the fall to prepare for next season.

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