BYU baseball was picked to finish sixth by West Coast Conference coaches in the preseason.
At the time, Cougar coach Mike Littlewood said that was fair.
“I don’t think a lot of teams could name four or five guys in our starting lineup,” Littlewood added.
The rest of the teams in the WCC know their names now.
BYU claimed the regular-season title with a 19-8 record, winning two of three games at Santa Clara this weekend. That included a tense 3-1 victory on Saturday in the finale. Abraham Valdez broke a 1-1 tie with a clutch two-run home run in the eighth and Reid McLaughlin nailed down the victory by pitching a scoreless ninth. Later in the day, Gonzaga lost to Loyola Marymount, falling to 17-9 in WCC play with one game to play on Sunday.
No. 24 BYU will be the No. 1 seed in the WCC Tournament, which begins Thursday at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, California. The Cougars will open with No. 4 seed Loyola Marymount. The Lions tied with San Francisco for fourth but had the tiebreaker after winning two of three from the Dons during the regular season. The other opening round matchup will be No. 2 Gonzaga against No. 3 Saint Mary’s.
While BYU has tied for the league crown twice under Littlewood, including in 2017, the program had never claimed an outright WCC title. The last time the Cougars won an outright conference regular season championship was in 1989 while playing the Western Athletic Conference.
BYU earned a trip to the NCAA Regionals in 2017 after winning the WCC Tournament but had a disappointing finish last season. Littlewood turned over about a third of his roster in an attempt to bring a better culture to the program.
Despite the setbacks in 2018, Littlewood was confident this new group could achieve great things.
“I think that with the team we have, we should battle for the league championship,” Littlewood said in February. “If we don’t, we’ve underachieved or underperformed somehow. We have the team that can do it.”
Even if the Cougars don’t win the WCC Tournament they are a strong candidate for an at-large bid to the NCAA’s with an RPI in the mid-30’s. BYU (36-15) won seven of nine WCC series, including two sweeps. In non-conference play, The Cougars had seven wins against Power 5 teams, the most in program history. BYU has also been ranked in the Top 25 four weeks this year.
Littlewood’s group of unknowns will likely have their names called for league honors this week. Sophomore shortstop Jackson Cluff (.340, 56 RBI) and senior outfielder Brock Hale (.340, 11 home runs, 44 RBI) are both candidates for Player of the Year. McLaughlin finished with a 7-1 record, four saves and a 2.72 earned run average and will get strong consideration for Freshman of the Year.
Littlewood should receive some votes for Coach of the Year after going from last place in the conference in 2018 to first this year.
The NCAA baseball tournament selection show is at 10 a.m. Monday and can be seen on ESPNU.