Hayden Nielsen was voted Second-team All-WCC and was one of three Cougars honored by the league heading into Thursday's tournament action against Pepperdine. (Photo by Mark A Philbrick/BYU Photo)
STOCKTON, Calif.—A trio of BYU baseball players received league honors as the Cougars ready for play against Pepperdine in Thursday’s West Coast Conference Championships.
Infielder’s Dillon Robinson and Hayden Nielsen were named to the all-conference first and second teams, respectively. Designated hitter Colton Shaver was voted to the all-freshman team by the league’s coaches.
“The honors are well deserved and all three of these guys have worked extremely hard to get their respective games to a level worthy of all conference status,” BYU coach Mike Littlewood said.
“Dillon has been our guy all year long - he's played great defense at both first and third base, and has been the anchor of our line up as well. To make first team all-conference in this league is a special honor and Dillon worked hard to earn it.” Robinson, a senior from Pleasant Grove, leads the team with a .364 batting average.
“Hayden is a special player,” Littlewood said. “All he does is make every play and get big hits. If Hayden doesn't have the type of year he had we would not be in the WCC tournament. He worked hard to improve at the plate and that hard work paid off for him and us in a big way.” Nielsen, a junior shortstop from Spanish Fork, is BYU’s No. 2 hitter with a .336 average and has committed only seven errors in 260 chances.
“Colton came through big for us this year,” Littlewood said. “Early in the fall we told the team that for us to be good someone is going to have to play above expectations and Colton was one of the guys who have done that. The casual fan will notice the big home run numbers but he has done so much for this team, including protecting Dillon in the lineup all year long. I'm glad he's a Cougar and that we will have him for a few more years.” Shaver, a freshman from Riverton, is among seven Cougars who are batting above .300 and leads the team with 13 home runs.
The Cougar trio has been at the heart of the lineup which has a .298 batting average which ranks No. 30 in the NCAA.
“It feels very rewarding to have achieved our first major team goal of reaching the WCC tournament,” Littlewood said. “We played a tough non-conference schedule to kick off the season and despite starting 2-10, I really believe those first three series prepared us for the remainder of our schedule. It's an honor to play in such a great venue as Banner Island Ballpark and we are going to make the most of the opportunity to move on to a regional. “
For the second time in his three seasons Littlewoods’s team has qualified for the WCC Tournament. The Cougars were eliminated from that tourney in 2013 by San Diego after upsetting Gonzaga when BYU was the No. 4 seed. The Cougars, 28-24 overall and 16-11 in WCC, earned the No. 3 seed by virtue of tiebreakers and winning key series in a run where they have won eight of the last 11 games.
Pepperdine, brings a 27-26 overall mark and a 17-10 league record into Thursday’s game with the Cougars at 7 p.m. PDT. The starting pitcher for BYU against the Waves will be Brandon Kinser (6-3, 4.29).
BYU won the final two games last March when it hosted Pepperdine, which secured the No. 2 seed last weekend when it won the series against Gonzaga.
“As our game at St. Mary's kept going back and forth Monday, I couldn't help but think "well, I guess we will be playing USD", and the next inning it was, "well I guess we will be playing Pepperdine,” Littlewood said. “I knew neither option was going to be easy."
“Pepperdine will come at you in a variety of ways. They are going to pitch it well, they will play solid defense and they will put together good at bats one through nine. They won't beat themselves and they will continually put pressure on us.”
The WCC Tournament is Thursday through Saturday in Stockton, Calif., at Banner Island Ballpark. The Cougar games will be broadcast live on ESPN 960 AM/BYU Radio and streamed online by theW.tv.
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