The BYU baseball team fresh off a 3-way co-West Coast Conference Championship regular season campaign begin their post-season march on Thursday in Stockton, California at Banner Island Ballpark.
The 37-15 Cougars have earned a #2 seeding in the 4 team tournament by virtue of tiebreaker procedure. Their opponent is the #3 seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs. But don't be fooled by BYU's higher seeding, these Bulldogs are a tough group.
Gonzaga has a 33-17 record, trailing only BYU in overall record in the WCC. Gonzaga has a league high RPI of 30. The Bulldogs were road warriors this season -- playing 40 of the 50 regular season games away from Spokane, and 36 of those were true road games. Despite this, Gonzaga went 23-13 away from home. Those 23 road wins mark the 2nd-most in the nation.
The Bulldogs were led at the plate by Junior Jeff Bohling who was honored this week as the WCC Player of the Year. The third baseman has hit .301, 7 home runs, 42 runs batted during the 2016 campaign. Bohling was particularly effective from the plate during WCC play with a 2nd best .647 slugging percentage with a league leading 77 total bases.
The Bulldogs placed the most players of any WCC team on the All-WCC 1st Team. Joining Bohling is sophomore outfielder Tyler Frost. Frost is 3rd in the conference with 46 RBIs this season to go along with his .389 on base percentage.
In addition, Gonzaga placed two starting pitchers on the WCC 1st Team in junior righty Brandon Bailey and sophomore Eli Morgan.
Bailey will be tabbed to face off against the powerful BYU offense in their WCC tournament opening matchup.
The 5'10' Bailey is a strikeout specialist. Bailey is ranked 2nd in the WCC and 15th nationally with his 103 K's this season. Bailey averages an incredible 10.99 Ks per nine innings. Bailey has almost been pitch perfect in each of his starts this season.
Boasting perfection is BYU's starter and 1st Team All-WCC performer Michael Rucker who has gone 11-0 this season. Rucker is just the 5th Cougar in history to reach 11 wins without a blemish, and the first to do it since Jeff Stone did it in 1997.
One of Rucker's victories came earlier this season against the Gonzaga ace Bailey. In the previous encounter between Rucker and Bailey, BYU gave commanding performances from both Rucker and the rest of the team at the plate. It was an emotion-filled game against his former school and Rucker delivered 7 innings with 1 run and 6 hits allowed, a walk, and 6 K's.
Meanwhile, the Brigham Bats kept filling the base paths and driving them home. Most notably, in the 1st inning, the Cougar hitters forced the talented Gonzaga ace Bailey to throw 50 pitches as they scored 3 early runs. Bailey made it 4 innings with 8 hits allowed, 5 earned runs, 3 walks, and 3 strikeouts. BYU batters hit .400 on Bailey that night at Miller park. The game ended in a score of 11-2.
Following the game, Michael Rucker would tweet:
I tell you what, the grass IS greener on this side of the fence!! Fantastic win tonight boys! #sorrynotsorry #wetlatherrinserepeat tomorrow!— Michael Rucker (@mikeruck27) April 29, 2016
BYU would win the home series against Gonzaga 2-1. A series win that was capped by a BYU's 5-run 9th inning and walk-off rally to win 5-4.
Bad blood, great pitching, very good hitting, and advancing one step closer to the NCAA tournament. Both teams need a win to increase their at-large profile. It is going to be on in Stockton tonight.
BYU right handed pitcher Michael Rucker (11-0, 2.58 ERA)
Gonzaga right handed pitcher Brandon Bailey (8-3, 2.45 ERA)
Projected Starting Lineups:
2016 WCC Baseball Tournament Bracket:
The game will be played at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, California at 8:00 PM MST. Fans can watch the game via a live stream online at theW.tv or/and they can listen to Brent Norton call the game on ESPN Radio 960 AM or on BYU Radio -- Sirius 143.