(Photo by Kyle Terada/Terada Photo)
PROVO, Utah—A year of firsts represented the 2017 BYU baseball season, highlighted by its first NCAA postseason tournament since 2002.
That tourney was made possible by the Cougars earning an automatic berth when they won the West Coast Conference Tournament in Stockton, California for the first time. BYU finished the season with a 38-21 overall record and a 20-7 record in WCC action, which led to a second-straight tri-championship title for the regular season, tying with Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount.
"I'm really proud of every single guy on this team," BYU coach Mike Littlewood said. "The guys who played a lot and got a lot of time were obviously very important to this team, but the attitude and work ethic of the guys who didn't play a lot was what pushed us over the top and allowed us to have a breakthrough year."
BYU was defeated in the NCAA regional by host No. 8 Stanford and No. 17 Cal State Fullerton, who advanced to the College World Series. The Cougars eliminated Western Athletic Conference champion Sacramento State from that regional.
A key to that regular season title was a first-ever victory at the University of San Diego, ranked No. 19 at the time. That 10-inning victory helped BYU claim the series vs. USD and began a streak of winning 13 of 14 games.
During that streak BYU reascended to first place in the WCC and held on to that spot for the rest of the season. In that span, senior tri-captain Tanner Chancey was ranked No. 1 in the nation for two weeks as the nation’s toughest batter to strikeout.
Another attention-grabber for BYU was sophomore outfielder Keaton Kringlen, who was named National Player of the Week by three organizations. He hit three home runs in the final game against Saint Mary’s, including an inside-the-park homer, to propel him to those honors as well as being named Rawlings WCC Player of the Week.
Sophomore Brock Hale also earned Rawlings WCC Player of the Week honors during the final week of the regular season for his play against Utah and Portland. Hale, who missed eight games with a mid-season knee injury, led the Cougars and the WCC in batting most of the season and finished with a .395 average, which was No. 5 in the NCAA.
The Cougars finished No. 7 in the nation in batting average at .319, No. 7 with 696 hits and No. 6 in scoring with an 8.1 average. Junior tri-captain Brennon Anderson finished No. 3 nationally in runs scored with 71.
Tri-captain Bronson Larsen won MVP honors at the WCC Tournament where he broke the record by hitting four home runs in the tourney. Larsen and teammate Colton Shaver were named First Team All-WCC, while Hale, Cougar pitcher Maverik Buffo and shortstop Daniel Schneemann joined Larsen as All-WCC Tourney selections. Hale was named to the American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings All-West Region first team, while Larsen was a second-team selection.
Buffo signed with the Toronto Blue Jays after being drafted in the 34th round. Shaver also signed a year early after being selected by the Houston Astros in the 39th round of the Major League Baseball draft.
"This group of guys can be proud of the fact that they were the team who helped this program turn the corner and regain national prominence," Littlewood said. "I can't say enough about the senior leadership that we had. That leadership an attitude will trickle down to the next wave of seniors and should perpetuate itself for years to come."
After a rocky 10-11 start to the regular season, including nine losses of two runs or less, including a perfect game loss at LMU, the Cougars got untracked for 2017. They won the baseball portion of the Deseret First Duel and returned to the national rankings during that timeframe, ranked as high as No. 18. BYU won seven of nine WCC series, sweeping Saint Mary’s, Pacific, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Portland.
The 2016-17 season began last Fall, highlighted by a scrimmage at Michigan State prior to BYU’s football victory over the Spartans. The Cougars also had a Thanksgiving vacation trip to the Caribbean island of Curaçao where they defeated the host National Team.
BYU played its last season in Provo on a natural grass field drawing 37,594 fans for an average of 1,755 fans at home. Larry H. Miller Field is converting to artificial turf for the coming year.