For the second time since moving to the West Coast Conference, the BYU Cougars baseball team will compete in the WCC post season tournament. Two years ago the Cougars made a run at the tournament title with first year Coach Mike Littlewood at the helm. After losing a number of players to the MLB draft the team struggled last year and finished with a losing record and a position outside the post season.
In the WCC the top four teams play in the three day tournament. BYU earned their berth after a win on Saturday and secured their third seed with the win on Monday. Going into the make-up game against the St. Mary's Gaels, the Cougars put their seeding on the line as a win would give them the third seed while a loss put them in the fourth seed to face the top seeded San Diego Toreros. The last, and only time, the Cougars beat the Toreros was in 1990 in a game that took place well before the teams shared a conference. BYU hasn't had the same struggles with the Pepperdine Waves, the second seed in the tournament, as the Cougars took two of three during the regular season. This highlights how big the 4-3 win, off a Jarrett Jarvis walk-off home run, was for the Cougars as they will now play on Thursday at 8 pm MST against Pepperdine.
After a tough start to the season, they dropped 10 of their first 12 games, the Cougars have rebounded and fought their way back into contention after winning 10 of their last 14. After a sub .500 season last year, Littlewood and his team have guaranteed at least a winning record to end the year. The Cougars changed their fortunes dramatically as they went from 7-10 at home last year to 14-3 at home this year. The main struggle, however, continues to be on neutral fields as they went 3-8 last year and are sitting at 2-6 with the tournament yet to be played.
In order to take the next step forward the Cougars will need to play better when playing on the road and at neutral sites. Just like they have all year the Cougars will rely on the bats of senior Dillon Robinson, junior Hayden Nielsen, and freshman Colton Shaver. Of the 268 runs batted in for the team, these three had a hand in 115 of them. Shaver has launched 12 home runs with Robinson adding four, the next closest on the team.
Sophomore Michael Rucker has been the Cougars most consistent pitcher on the year but fellow sophomore Mason Marshall has taken it up a notch during conference play. Rucker boasted a 3.30 earned run average and a 5-1 win-loss record. He also picked up six saves and 51 strikeouts. Marshall ended with an ERA of 5.17 and a 4-1 record but when he faced conference opponents he dropped the average to 2.14 and didn't lose a game. Marshall and Rucker will be a key to the post season for the Cougars and will need to be on the top of their game as they face teams the second time around, and with further post-season games on the line.
You can listen to the Cougars Tournament games on KOVO 960 am or watch online at TheW.tv as we cheer on the Cougars in their pursuit of a tournament championship.