BYU baseball head coach Mike Littlewood was less than pleased with 2018’s season record of 22-28 after the Cougars’ WCC tournament win in 2017. Hoping to learn from the past and not repeat last season’s efforts, the 2019 season includes a new pitching coach and 20 newcomers.
BYU held a 5-5 record at the start of the season in March 2018, struggling to stay on top of its losses. Just a year later, the team headed into its first home game with an impressive 7-3 record. The Cougars’ WHIP, the number of baserunners allowed per inning pitched, sits No. 18 in the nation at 1.12.
BYU’s season opener Feb. 15 foreshadowed the start of a record-breaking season for Littlewood. The team beat Northwestern on the road in a three-game series and continued its momentum, winning all four games at home this week.
BYU faced rival UVU March 5 in the first game at Provo’s Larry H. Miller Field this season. Prior to the matchup, the rivals faced each other on March 27, 2018, when BYU won by a landslide 14-2. The Wolverines haven’t logged a win against the Cougars since 2016.
In the home opener, the teams appeared to be on an even playing field, holding a 1-1 stalemate leading into the 8th inning. However, the Cougars took off, scoring four runs and bringing the final score to 5-1.
The Cougars then started a three-game series against Milwaukee. Littlewood’s team beat the Panthers 11-8 on March 7 in a game that earned the Cougars a season high of 15 hits.
A standout player was pitcher Jordan Wood, who managed seven strikeouts during his 6.2 innings of play, only giving up three runs. He ended the 2018 season with an impressive WHIP of 1.25.
“Jordan was as solid as I’ve ever seen him,” Littlewood said. “An MO of our team over the years is to have good at-bats one through nine, so it was nice to see our hits so spread out.”
The schedule originally called for a double-header March 8; however, because of weather, a shortened single game was permitted. It seemed Milwaukee found its footing as the team scored three runs in the first inning. However, the Panthers went three scoreless innings, allowing the Cougars to rack up 10 runs by the end of the fourth.
“Our guys did a great job fighting through tough conditions today and bringing energy the entire game,” Littlewood said. “There was no panic when we went down three runs in the first and we just kept battling back.”
Heading into the third game with a 2-0 record against Milwaukee, BYU took a 5-0 lead into the fifth inning. The Cougars gave up three at the end, managing a 5-3 win.
Littlewood expressed concern regarding sophomore Drew Zimmerman’s performance in the ninth inning.
“It was disappointing to see what (Zimmerman) did in the ninth,” Littlewood said. “Four walks and couldn’t get out of the ninth with the save. His velocity was good, but it doesn’t matter in every situation. You have to throw strikes.”
After Zimmerman’s below average performance, freshman Reid McLaughlin finished the game with a strikeout.
“He’s a guy we trust giving the ball to as a freshman and we know he’s going to throw strikes,” Littlewood said.
While the weekend ended with a close win, BYU still swept Milwaukee in the series. Littlewood felt the team’s pitchers were equally matched and knew how to throw off the equilibrium.
“I thought the pitchers on both sides did a nice job keeping each other off balance,” Littlewood said. “Again today, as we have the last couple days, we got production one through nine which was nice.”
For the first time since the ’70s, BYU baseball logged at 11-3, the team’s second-best record for the season’s first 14 games.
The Cougars will host Gonzaga for a three-game series March 14. Littlewood recognized the strength of his pitchers in their battle against Milwaukee and is not oblivious to Gonzaga’s weapon, Casey Legumina.
“(Casey) Legumina is a legit 93-94 with a hard slider,” Littlewood said. “But I’ll take Jordan Wood against anybody. I think he is as good as anybody in our league as a starting pitcher.”
The Cougars hold a tight record against the Bulldogs, trailing behind with a 24-26 record. This season BYU proves to be in a better spot, holding a .786 winning percentage compared to Gonzaga’s .385. Littlewood hopes to at least maintain this percentage heading into this weekend.
“The first 14 games count, but this is when it really counts,” Littlewood said.