(Photo by BYU Photo)
PROVO, Utah – BYU softball looks back on a successful season that saw its eighth-straight conference championship and 12th-consecutive NCAA tournament berth along with many school records broken along the way.
The Cougars finished 2016 with a 36-21 record, including a 12-3 mark in West Coast Conference play. Keeping the streaks alive, BYU won its third-straight WCC title and 11th overall since softball’s inception at BYU in 2000.
After winning the auto-bid via the WCC title, the Cougars went to their 12th NCAA tournament in a row, 13th overall. Leaving the northwest for the first time since 2010, BYU was placed in the Columbia Regional. Following a loss to the host team Mizzou, the Cougars bounced back to defeat Louisville 6-4. They were then eliminated by Nebraska in the next game. BYU has won one game in the NCAA regionals three years in a row and 11 of the last 12.
BYU played its first 30 games of the season on the road against stiff competition, including 10 against top-25 teams, 14 against 2016 NCAA tournament teams, eight against 2016 Super Regional teams, two against 2016 Women’s College World Series teams and the 2016 World Series Champions Oklahoma.
BYU picked up wins over Utah and Arizona, who both advanced to the Super Regionals. The Cougars beat then-No.15 Arizona in Tucson 4-2 for their first top-15 win on the road since defeating Texas in Austin to advance to the Super Regionals in 2010. In the Deseret First Duel in Salt Lake City, BYU beat Utah 5-4 despite the snowy conditions.
McKenna Bull dominated the first weekend of the season. In the first game of the year against San Jose State at the Kajikawa Classic, Bull threw her first solo no-hitter for the win. Then against Wisconsin the next day, she tied her career high of 14 strikeouts in the 5-4 win in nine innings.
WCC play got off to a rough start for the Cougars after they dropped the first series against Loyola Marymount in Provo. However, the team bounced back, winning eight in a row and 13 of the next 15 games. BYU swept three of the five conference series in 2016.
The home series against Saint Mary’s was one of the most impressive sweeps of the season for BYU. The Cougars took care of business against the first place Gaels as Ashley Thompson went 8 for 9 over the three games, including a perfect 7 for 7 with three homers and seven RBI in the doubleheader.
To clinch the WCC title, BYU had to win one game at San Diego in the last weekend of conference play. The Cougars earned the championship in the first game, battling against the Toreros in 12 innings. Gordy Bravo’s RBI in the top of the 12th sealed the win and the WCC championship.
BYU took four of the top five conference postseason honors. The WCC Player of the Year was Thompson, WCC Pitcher of the Year for a second-straight year was Bull, WCC Defensive Player of the Year was Lauren Bell and head coach Gordon Eakin won WCC Co-Coach of the Year. Additionally, those three players were named to the All-WCC First Team along with Bravo and Alexa Strid. Libby Sugg was named to the All-WCC Second Team.
Along with their league awards, Thompson and Bull were awarded NFCA Division I All-Pacific Region Second Team honors for their exceptional seasons.
Thompson, a junior first baseman, led the team in multiple stat categories: batting average (.400), runs (44), hits (66), doubles (12) and stolen bases (12). Additionally, she is second in RBI (49) and home runs (13).
Putting her name in the BYU record books, Thompson had a 30-game on-base streak this year, which is the second-longest streak in BYU history. Additionally, she moved up to ninth on the list for stolen bases in a career with 28. She also moved up to fifth in career walks (97), third for career on-base percentage (.454) and 10th for career slugging percentage (.572). She also made a few season-high lists for BYU: she notched the eighth-highest on-base percentage (.490) and the 10th best slugging percentage (.733) for a single season.
In her junior season, Bull led the team from the circle, pitching 263.2 innings with a 2.63 ERA. She has been ranked in the top 10 nationally for strikeouts and shutouts for the majority of the year.
Throughout the season, Bull has broken multiple BYU pitching season and career records. She is the career leader in saves (11) and shutouts (21), while also snatching the top spot in season strikeouts (286) and shutouts (10) by breaking her own records set in 2015. Bull is posed to break a few more career records next year after finishing the season in second for career wins (77), complete games (70), innings pitched (694.1) and strikeouts (748). This year, she threw two no-hitters and had nine games with double-digit strikeouts.
Sugg had an outstanding rookie season for BYU softball. She was ranked in the top 25 in home runs and home runs per game in the NCAA all season, totaling 18 on the year, which is tied for seventh in a single season in BYU history. She led the team in RBI (58), home runs (18) and walks (37) and was second on the team in doubles with 10. Her 58 RBI is good for the 10th most in a season at BYU.
Sugg hit a home run in five straight games in 2016, which is third in NCAA history for consecutive games with home runs. Also, she hit home runs against top-25 teams Tennessee, UCLA, Mizzou and Arizona and a grand slam against Saint Mary’s. In the Cougars’ NCAA regional game against Louisville, she had a home run and a career-high five RBI to get the 6-4 win.
The WCC Defensive Player of the Year Bell also had a solid season for the Cougars. The junior shortstop was second on the team in batting average (.373), runs (43) and hits (62), third in at-bats (166) and first in sacrifice hits (16) and sacrifice flies (4). At Pacific, she hit a home run in the seventh inning to bring in three runs and give BYU the win. She is ninth in BYU history for career batting average with .344 following the season.
BYU’s two seniors finished off their careers on a high note. Bravo and Coco Tauali’i Bond won conference championships and advanced to NCAA regionals in all four of their seasons.
Bravo carved her place in the BYU career record books from centerfield. She is fourth in batting average (.368), eighth in at-bats (647), seventh in runs (141), sixth in hits (238), tied for fifth in triples (7) and seventh in on-base percentage (.450).
Bond held down the defense from third base for her career. She is tied for 10th on the all-time reached base streak record at BYU with 23. She also had a part in one of the two triple plays in BYU history.
After only losing two players next season, BYU softball will return a more experienced squad in addition to the five impressive signees joining the team in the fall.