After coming just a few games short of the NCAA Baseball Tournament last year, the Cougars expected to take a few punches in the 2014 campaign. With a rookie head coach the cougars exceeded expectations last year with a 32-21 record, an unexpected second place regular season finish in the WCC, and a bid to the WCC baseball tournament.
The program looked to be flying high and the future looked bright. It was the coming of the MLB draft that brought the Cougars back to reality. Four Cougars starters had their name called during the draft and left the Cougars a few holes to fill. Jacob Hannemann, Jaycob Brugman, Adam Law and Adam Miller looked to give the team stability, talent, and experience for 2014 before the big leagues came calling. With a little foresight the Cougars stocked up some talent, but for at least a year they are rebuilding and putting together a team that has little experience playing together.
With a core of building blocks on the team, the Cougars are gaining experience in both well played, and poorly executed games. With 19 games left in the season, the Cougars want to learn from their low points while building on their high's. So far the season can be summed up with a few low points and a couple of highlights.
Losing streaks will cause anyone to have nightmares and the Cougars have had a few too many of them. After starting off the season with a four game losing streak, they managed to lose eight of their first nine. They quickly bounced back for a six game win streak that was promptly followed by an eight game losing streak.
Blow out loses can destroy a teams confidence and the Cougars have had their share. BYU has lost eight games by six points or more this year with three of them coming by nine or more. Two of the eight losses have come in front of friendly crowds in Provo, but any large loss can be devastating.
Close losses can either demoralize a team, or give them hope for the next game. When the Cougars have taken a game into extra innings, the next game has not been pretty. After a 10-inning loss to Kansas, the Cougars came out the next game and lost 10-1. After winning in 12 innings against Nicholls State, the Cougars came out the next game and lost 10-2. After their third extra inning game of the year, the Cougars beat Utah and then turned around and lost to Saint Mary's 10-3. At least so far the Cougars have not responded well after these games, but the experience they are building could work in their favor later in the year and into next.
The two wins against the University of Utah are the highlights of the year. Even with a 10-19 record the games are big for both teams and the Cougars made it exciting for their fans. In the first game, played at Miller Park, the Cougars donned their royal blue jerseys and then took the Utes behind the woodshed. With a six run first inning, and 12 runs in the second inning, the Cougars cruised to a 20-3 victory. The second game, played at Smith's ballpark, was much closer as it ended in extra innings. Brock Whitney led BYU by going 3-5 with an RBI single in the first inning, a double to score two runs in the eighth, and the lead off single that led to a squeeze bunt where he scored the winning run in the 11th.
Although not as exciting for the fans as the Utah wins, the Cougars traveled to Washington and recorded their first win against the Washington State Cougars with a 3-0 victory. The shut out was BYU's first win in seven games and gave the Cougars a 3-0 record against the Pac-12 conference. Whitney extended his hitting streak to 10 games while Brennon Lund extended his to eight.
Looking to the future:
With returned missionaries, true freshman and a handful of transfers littering the roster, the Cougars have hoped for the best but have struggled a good part of the year. Even with the team struggles, there are a few players to keep your eyes on for the rest of the year, and hopefully next year.
Players to Watch:
Sophomore Hayden Nielsen was picked as a pre-season all conference WCC shortstop. He has struggled offensively but has been a wizard on defense. With only four errors on the year to accompany his 80 assists and 54 putouts, Nielsen can boast a .971 fielding percentage. While only batting .183 at the plate, his defense has allowed him to play in all 34 games this year as a defensive specialist.
Junior third baseman Dillon Robinson leads the team with a .412 batting average and a .515 slugging percentage. With 40 hits on the year he is fourth on the team by nine, but has been to the plate 48 less times. On defense he has three errors on the year with 36 assists and 21 putouts for a .950 fielding percentage. With another year under his belt, he could improve even further and be a rock for the Cougars next year.
Freshman center fielder Bennon Lund is being asked to fill the gap in the outfield where Hannemann played. As a freshman he has played in 33 games and has the most at bats on the team. He is batting .338 while leading the team in hits and scoring the second most runs on the team. As good as his plate presence has been, his defense has been even better. With only one error, two outfield assists, and 97 putouts he is boasting a .990 fielding percentage. If the Cougars can hang onto Lund, he could be a building block for Coach Littlewood.
Over the next 19 games the Cougars will see what they can put into practice this year, but don't be surprised if next year the Cougars come out ready to put their experience on the line. If they can apply the lessons learned this year and go into the off season strong, the Cougars could surprise their fans, their conference, and hopefully the nation.
With exception to the game against Utah Valley University, all game are broadcast on KOVO 960 AM and BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143. The majority of them can also be seen on BYUtv or thew.tv. For a complete schedule, click here.