With 15 games left in the regular season, every game is important to the BYU baseball team.
The Cougars (26-10 overall, 10-5 WCC) are fresh off of winning two of three at Washington and embark on a three-game series at Pacific beginning Thursday. BYU will play 12 WCC games and three non-conference teams during the next four weeks.
“There’s a four-way tie for first place and we’re in the mix,” BYU coach Mike Littlewood said. “We’re 10-5 and three other teams are 12-6. I think it’ll take 16 or 17 wins to get into the WCC Tournament, by my unofficial math. Sometimes 16 wins would get you the conference championship, so it’s a really competitive league. Pacific has eight league wins and is a good team, so every game is tough.”
The Cougars series win at Washington bumped the team’s RPI from 42 to 37, which would put them in consideration for an at-large NCAA invitation in late May. BYU’s starting pitching was terrific against the Huskies with Jordan Wood, Easton Walker and Justin Sterner combining to allow just one earned run and totaling 23 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. Overall, the Cougar staff allowed just four runs in the three games.
Wood, who had suffered through a couple of rough outings, returned to form by holding Washington without an earned run in 5 2/3 innings while striking out eight in a 1-0 loss in the opener. Walker – who is second in the nation in earned run average at 0.89 – struck out eight and allowed just one earned run in 6 1/3 innings in BYU’s 7-3 victory in Game 2. In Game 3, Justin Sterner had his finest outing of the season and allowed just one hit and struck out seven in 7 1/3 innings as the Cougars claimed a 4-0 victory.
“I’m really proud of the pitching staff and Coach (Michael) Bradshaw,” Littlewood said. “The way they are approaching their daily work and preparation and executing pitches, that’s what it’s all about. Talent-wise, we have always had talent on the mound. The focus and command and fearlessness they are exhibiting this year and the execution in games, it’s just off the charts.”
BYU’s pitching staff is at 3.47 ERA, .240 opposing batting average, 2.97 walks allowed per game and 7.39 strikeouts per game. According to baseball SID Jordan Christiansen, all four marks would be the best in program history since 1969 if those numbers were to hold.
BYU junior catcher Noah Hill, who had to be taken to a hospital in Seattle after taking a baseball in the throat last Friday, was allowed to return with the team Saturday evening. Littlewood said Hill had a bruised trachea and may be able to return to action sometime this weekend.
“I love Noah’s story,” Littlewood said. “He hasn’t been given one thing here. Everything he’s gotten at BYU has been earned. He’s one of the best stories I’ve had in seven years at BYU. He just grinds it out and has a great attitude. He never complains about playing time. I think we’ll see him in the lineup this week.”