BYU baseball finishes record season

Ari Davis
The BYU baseball team took on Portland for on May 12. (Ari Davis)

The 2017 baseball season brought both big wins and tough losses for BYU, but overall the Cougars distinguished this season as one of their best by their long winning streaks, multiple series sweeps, WCC championship and spot in the NCAA tournament.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for BYU at first. The Cougars’ season started roughly as the team lost six of their first eleven games. Each of those losses was by two runs or fewer and two losses came after extra innings.

“It was a weird start,” said catcher Bronson Larsen. “But we figured it out just in time, especially for the conference, and we played well the rest of the year.”

The Cougars caught fire in the next series against UC Santa Barbara, winning three out of four games. BYU outscored UCSB 46-27 in the series.

From there, BYU picked up momentum.

“Our team showed great resiliency all year long,” said coach Mike Littlewood. “We knew if we just stuck with it good things would happen.”

And with solid teamwork and heartfelt dedication, good things did happen.

“We were relentless offensively,” Larsen said. “We used every single person on that team. Anyone that came in got the job done. It was a total team effort.”

As the season progressed, BYU added impressive numbers to their stats, including five series sweeps and conference winning streaks of six and eight games, respectively.

BYU’s talent and teamwork carried them to a 20-7 conference record and 38-21 overall record, tying for the ninth-most wins in school history.

Near the end of the regular season, the Cougars were poised to win an outright WCC title for the first time in program history and needed only one victory against Gonzaga to do so.

But the title turned out to be more elusive than expected. One loss after another pushed it further and further away until, after being swept by Gonzaga, BYU was forced to share the regular season title with Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount.

“I think the problem was that we went into the weekend thinking we just need to win one rather than going in and saying ‘let’s win all three,'” Larsen said. “We played not to lose instead of playing aggressively, and we kind of got away from what we did all year.”

At this point, the only chance BYU had to make the NCAA tournament was to win the WCC tournament title, something the team had yet to do since joining the conference in 2011.

In the first game of the tournament, BYU fell to LMU 3-2, putting them one loss away from elimination.

But, as Larsen said, the Cougars weren’t finishing the season without a fight.

After beating St. Mary’s 8-4 in the first elimination game, BYU once again faced LMU.

This time, BYU gained the advantage and defeated LMU 5-4.

This put the Cougars in a tough position, one where they would have to win back-to-back games against Gonzaga, the team that relentlessly kept BYU from the regular season championship, to claim the title.

Despite going 0-3 against the Bulldogs this season, the Cougars were ready.

After an impressive 10-3 win over Gonzaga in the first game, BYU dominated in a 16-3 victory for the WCC title in the second game. It was BYU’s first conference tournament championship since 2002.

“I told the guys that besides getting married, these were the best two days of my life,” Littlewood said. “After the first game, we flipped the switch and put it all together. I’ve never been more proud of 35 guys in my life.”

The WCC championship earned the Cougars a No. 26 national ranking and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

In round one against No. 17 Cal State Fullerton, BYU felt the pressure from the Titans’ impressive pitching and aggressive batters.

The Cougars suffered a 13-2 loss and were pushed into another elimination game.

In that elimination game, solid pitching by Hayden Rogers and key hits by first baseman Tanner Chauncey helped keep the Cougars alive in the tournament as they beat Sacramento State 6-1 in their 18th come-from-behind victory of the season.

BYU then went on to play its final game of the year against No. 8 and regional host Stanford.

The Cougars took a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning, but the Cardinal offense erupted for 9 runs in three innings and BYU was eliminated after the 9-1 loss.

Even though the season ended in elimination, the Cougars say they have no regrets.

“It was awesome to be able to make the NCAA tournament,” Larsen said. “I have nothing but respect for these guys because we’ve been going at it for four years.”

Littlewood said that looking forward, BYU has a bright future and a solid base for many years to come.

“This is a special group of guys,” Littlewood said. “To break through like this team did is rewarding. I’d take their will and determination over any team I’ve ever had.”

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