The BYU baseball team has high expectations going into the 2017 season.
The Cougars won the West Coast Conference regular season crown for the first time last year, starting with a 16-1 preseason record. Coach Mike Littlewood said the team is looking for another hot start in 2017.
“We want to get off to a fast start. That’s really important to us for RPI reasons,” Littlewood said. “Last year, we got off to a great start and it gave us a lot of confidence.”
Despite winning the regular season title, the Cougars struggled in the postseason going 0-2 in the WCC tournament and failing to make the NCAA Tournament.
Junior slugger Colton Shaver said the team plans on making more noise at tournament time.
“One of our big goals as a team is that we just want to win the conference tournament this year,” Shaver said. “We’ve gone to the conference tournament two years now and both years we went two-and-out. This year we just want to take it.”
Shaver should be a big part of the offense this season. He was an All-American last year hitting 10 home runs with 57 RBI and a .571 slugging percentage.
While Shaver is a power-hitter, he focused on his fielding skills during the off-season.
“I’ve worked really hard on my feet and getting quicker to help our team win and help produce defensively more than I did last year,” Shaver said.
One reason the Cougars struggled to win in the tournament was injuries to key players. Right-handed pitcher Maverik Buffo was a key contributor before being set back by an arm injury. Buffo was 6-2 with a 3.63 ERA in 11 starts before missing the rest of the season.
Buffo has fully recovered and is expected to help a loaded staff of pitchers keep opponents off the bases.
“I want to help my team and fill that role that I missed at the end of last season in the conference tournament,” Buffo said. “I want to take the team and help everybody make it to the conference tournament. It’s going to be a team effort. It’s going to take everybody, and I want to contribute to that.”
Littlewood is optimistic about his pitchers and knows their success is vital to a deep run in the postseason.
“The success of this team rides on the shoulders of this pitching staff,” Littlewood said. “We have 10 or 12 guys that can really pitch. They’re better than average. They just need to be tested a little bit at this level. Maverik Buffo will be our number-one guy; Brady Corless will also be in the starting rotation.”
Corless, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College, redshirted last season.
Offensively, the Cougars should be a big threat. In addition to Shaver, Tanner Chauncey and Daniel Schneemann will be in the starting lineup.
“We feel really good about ourselves offensively,” Littlewood said. “One through nine will be able to swing it. Colton Shaver is back in the middle of the lineup, Daniel Schneemann will start the season leading off for us and Tanner Chauncey is probably the best overall hitter in the league.”
Last season, Shaver, Schneemann and Chauncey combined to hit 11 home runs, drive in 94 runs and hit .334.
Littlewood said he agrees with players concerning team goals and expectations.
“One of our goals is to win the league again,” Littlewood said. “Secondarily, we want to get to a regional. Those are big goals, but we feel like we’ve got a team that can do it.”
The Cougars open the season Feb. 17 at Georgia Tech. Their home-opener is March 9 against UC Santa Barbara.