Freshman All-American Colton Shaver led BYU with 13 home runs in the Cougars' successful 2015 season. (Photo by BYU Photo/Mark Philbrick)
PROVO, Utah--In the recently concluded 2015 season, BYU's baseball team ended with a 28-25 overall record and a 16-11 mark in the West Coast Conference, well above the sixth place prediction by the WCC coaches poll. Not only did BYU attain the goal of qualifying for the four-team WCC Championships, it earned the No. 3 seed.
At the WCC playoffs, the Cougars had leads going into the ninth inning against eventual tourney champion Pepperdine and regular season winner San Diego. It was the second time in Coach Mike Littlewood’s three years at the helm that the Cougars made the WCC playoffs.
Earlier in the season, BYU won the series against Pepperdine and upset then-No. 29 San Diego State. Both Pepperdine and SDSU advanced to the NCAA postseason tournament.
The Cougars countered a 2-10 start in the season with a 15-7 record as the conference race unfolded. By winning two of three games against Utah, BYU won the trophy for the baseball portion of the Deseret First Duel for the seventh time in eight years.
“As we look forward to next season, it is very evident we need to do a better job of getting out of the gate early,” Littlewood said. “I felt like we played solid baseball from the start but also felt like we expended a lot of energy trying to dig ourselves out of the 2-10 hole.”
Aside from USD, the Cougars won every series against WCC opponents, including a midseason sweep over then league-leading San Francisco.
Dillon Robinson was named First-Team All-WCC, All-WCC Tournament, Academic All-WCC and Academic All-District VIII. Robinson led the team with a .371 overall batting average (.385 in WCC games) and was WCC Player of the Week against Pepperdine.
Brandon Kinser was moved midseason from a relief closer role to the third-game starting pitcher. He led the team with six wins.
Sophomore reliever Michael Rucker, in his first year of eligibility after transferring from Gonzaga, started six games, leading the team with a 3.22 earned run average and six saves. Rucker tied with junior Kolton Mahoney with 23 appearances.
Mahoney was drafted again, this time in the 16th round by the New York Yankees and led the Cougars with 91 strikeouts in 85.1 innings. Mahoney was national Pitcher of the Week by Collegiate Baseball as well as WCC Pitcher of the Week for 15 strikeouts against Portland.
Other underclassmen contributed in key roles. Shortstop Hayden Nielsen, center fielder Brennon Lund, right fielder Eric Urry, Bronson Larsen and designated hitter Colton Shaver.
Nielsen repeatedly came through in clutch situations for the Cougars at shortstop and with his bat. Lund was BYU’s leadoff batter, recording a team-best 24-game hitting streak midseason and was stellar at centerfield.
Urry, a second-team All-WCC selection by College Sports Madness, made key catches in right field and knocked a game-winning two-run homer in the 12th inning at Loyola Marymount. Urry was injured with a broken finger in the final game against USF, taking him out of the regular lineup for the rest of the season.
Urry’s homer at LMU gave BYU one of its seven extra-inning victories. Including extra-inning games, the Cougars were 7-8 in one-run games.
“As a program we need to do a better job of battling in game adversity and having a positive outcome,” Littlewood said.
The Cougars had good catching depth, illustrated by Larsen’s 23-game hitting streak at the end of the season and the leadership of senior Jarrett Jarvis. Jarvis’ walk-off home run in the 10th inning in a make-up game at Saint Mary’s in the final game of the regular season secured the No. 3 tourney seed for BYU.
Freshman All-American Shaver led the team with 13 homers, knocking pairs of dingers in single games at Utah Valley University, versus Saint Mary’s and twice against Utah. Shaver was the WCC Player of the Week against USF and was selected to the All-Freshman team by the WCC coaches. Shaver was a second-team All-WCC selection by College Sports Madness. Shaver was invited to the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby.
The Cougars lose nine lettermen but return 23 for next season.
“I'm excited about the direction we are going as a program,” Littlewood said. “We have a core of returners that understand our expectations, and that's so important because they can teach our incoming players what is expected of them.”