BYU tied with Gonzaga and Saint Mary's College as Tri-Champions of the West Coast Conference. (Photo by BYU Photo)
National limelight surrounded BYU baseball for much of the 2016 season for good reason en route to earning a share of the West Coast Conference title.
The tri-champion Cougars posted a 37-17 overall record and an 18-9 mark in the WCC, highlighted by No. 16 rankings after getting off to a 16-1 start.
The 12-game winning streak and an 11-0 start by All-American pitcher Michael Rucker were some of the reasons to attract national attention. The Cougars cracked the top 25 for a five-week period, ranked No. 16 in consecutive weeks in early April.
BYU was ranked among the NCAA leaders in batting average (No. 2 at .325), scoring (No. 6 at 8.1 runs per game), and hitting for many weeks of the season, but fell short of one of its goals of an NCAA tournament berth after achieving the goal as one of four teams in the WCC Tournament in Stockton, California.
Coach Mike Littlewood has guided the Cougars to the league tournament in three of his four years at the BYU helm. And for the eighth time in nine years, BYU won the Deseret First Duel by winning two of three games over Utah.
Home attendance soared correspondingly to a season total of 44,129, the best in the 16-year history of Miller Park.
“I'm trying not to focus on the last two games, which is going to be hard to do for a while, and focus on the direction this program is going,” Littlewood said. “We won a WCC league championship, won 37 games, and finished the regular season ranked 30th in the country.”
The WCC title was the first league title BYU had won since 2001.
“The simple fact is in the end we couldn't overcome our pitching injuries and we ran into two pitchers in the tournament that were virtually unhittable those days. I've got nothing but pride for the way our guys battled through the course of the season as we sustained key injury after injury. “
A first for BYU baseball was hosting ESPNU televising the final game of the regular season when the Cougars completed a sweep over Santa Clara to tie for the WCC crown. One of senior outfielder Eric Urry’s spectacular catches also made the ESPN SportsCenter Top 10.
Rucker was named a Louisville Slugger Third Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball Magazine and joined teammate Brennon Lund on the All-WCC first team. Designated hitter Colton Shaver was named a Rawlings Third Team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association. Shaver was ABCA/Rawlings All-West Region first team, while Lund and Rucker were second team selections.
Both Lund and Rucker were drafted in the 11th round by the Anaheim Angels and Chicago Cubs, respectively.
Keaton Kringlen replaced injured heralded prep phenom Kyle Dean in right field and went on to earn Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America honors, WCC Freshman of the Year, Second Team All-WCC and was named to the All-WCC Freshman Team.
Also named to the All-WCC second team was DH Shaver. First baseman Tanner Chauncey, second baseman Brennon Anderson and shortstop Hayden Nielsen (who started 213 games in his BYU career) were honorable mention All-WCC. Rucker and Chauncey were also honorable mention Academic All-WCC.
“We feel good about the guys we have coming back and the guys we have signed coming in,” Littlewood said. “We have a chance to be really good next year.”