At this point in the season, there is probably very little motivational rhetoric BYU coaches haven’t already tried.
So far, there have been no magic words to transform the Cougars into the West Coast Conference contender they were expected to be.
BYU won the WCC Tournament title last season and made the NCAAs for the first time since 2002. With seven regular starters and some solid pitching returning, there was no reason to think the Cougars couldn’t make another run.
It hasn’t turned out that way for various reasons. The pitching beyond No. 1 starter Jordan Wood has been inconsistent and the veteran players are all hitting 30-50 percentage points below their previous marks.
Technically speaking, BYU (9-13 WCC, 19-24 overall) isn’t completely out of the race for one of four spots to qualify for the WCC Tournament. But there’s been very little indication through a dreadful recent stretch — seven straight losses and only one win in the past 11 games — that the Cougars are ready to turn things around.
“Honestly, we’re just letting them play,” BYU coach Mike Littlewood said. “We’re not putting pressure on them. We’re trying to make it fun. That’s pretty much what we can do. We told the guys we owe it to one another, to ourselves and everyone who supports BYU baseball to play hard and not fold the tent.”
The Cougars dropped a 6-3 decision at Utah on Tuesday, which gave the Utes a 3-1 series edge in 2018. BYU outhit Utah 8-4 and played well defensively. But one of the Utes hits was a grand slam and the Cougars stranded 12 baserunners.
BYU’s next opportunity to improve begins Thursday in the Bay Area with a three-game set at San Francisco. The surprising Dons opened WCC play 9-1 but since that time have gone just 5-9. On Tuesday, USF was shut out against Nevada (6-0).
“They have three shutdown pitchers and they are a big, strong team,” Littlewood said. “They kind of came out of nowhere this season. We’ve played really well at San Francisco in the past, so hopefully that will just continue.”
The starting rotation of Riley Ornido (8-2, 1.80 ERA), Thomas Ponticelli (6-2, 2.76) and Landen Bourassa (6-4, 3.39) will be formidable for the Cougars’ struggling offense, which has scored just eight runs in the past five games.
One bright spot for the Cougars on Tuesday was outfielder Mitch McIntyre, who entered the game in the fourth inning and went 2-for-3 with an RBI triple. The freshman from Tooele is hitting .295 this season.
Littlewood sent several pinch hitters to the plate in the fourth inning because he wasn’t happy with the way some of his starters looked at the plate in their first at-bats.
“When guys have horrible approaches and I can tell they are kind of swinging underwater, when they don’t look confident, we need to get someone else out there,” Littlewood said. “With Mitch, we want him to play. With good left-handers on the mound we don’t want to overexpose him as a freshman, but I think we’re going to run Mitch out there most of the time now and let him play.”