An NCAA regional berth through winning the Mountain West Conference is a hopeful sign of things to come as BYU moved into its new stadium at Larry H. Miller Field.
Attendance skyrocketed to an average of 1,337 fans at home with a season-record 17,378 spectators taking in BYU baseball at Miller Park as night baseball made its debut. The Cougars finished the 2001 season with a record of 38-22 overall and 21-8 in league play.
BYU, who had been picked third in pre-season polls, won both the MWC regular season and tournament titles. Prior to moving into Miller Park, the Cougars had played 35 games. Perhaps the highlight at Larry H. Miller field was the record 3,120 fans who witnessed BYU clinch the league title with an 11-1 victory over UNLV with pitcher Nate Fernley exciting the fans before the post-game fireworks celebration.
Second-year Coach Vance Law was selected as MWC Coach of the Year for marshalling these players through the difficult pre-season and several ninth-inning comebacks at Southern Utah and Utah, and against New Mexico, while losing difficult one-run games in the ninth against Washington and at Oklahoma State.
The ultimate comeback came at the MWC Tournament at San Diego, Calif., with star outfielder Matt Carson sidelined due to back spasms for the last four games of the tourney. The Cougars registered comeback victories battling through the loser's bracket against the final three opponents, UNLV, New Mexico and host SDSU in the championship game. The Cougars beat the Aztecs, 4-3, after falling behind 3-0 in the first two innings, with Fernley going the distance.
That conference crown was the first for BYU since 1994 when it also qualified for the NCAA Tournament, the eighth time the Cougars have been in the regionals. This season's NCAA Regional 64-team field featured Cal Fullerton, California, Fresno State, Oral Roberts and Oklahoma State who were all on BYU's schedule. The Cougars posted a 6-5 record against these NCAA Regional participants.
Fernley, who was the nation's winningest pitcher throughout the entire season and post-season, posted a 16-3 record and a 3.12 ERA en route to All-America honors. The senior righthander's 16 victories tied a school record and he broke records with his 133 strikeouts and 152.2 innings pitched. He was MVP of the MWC Tournament as he posted victories in BYU's opening and closing games of that tourney in San Diego, Calif. Fernley ended up signing with the Cleveland Indians.
In addition to Fernley being named Second Team All-America by Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America magazines, he was named MVP of the MWC Tournament, First-Team All-Conference, four-time MWC Pitcher of the Week, and National Pitcher of the Week by Collegiate Baseball after throwing a shutout at Cal and recording 15 strikeouts in seven innings at the University of San Francisco in a one-week span.
Joining Fernley for honors during the season was relief pitcher Justin Su'a, who was named First Team Freshman All-America by Collegiate Baseball. Su'a was also selected as Second Team All-MWC. Designated hitter Jeff Hiestand was honorable mention Freshman All-America.
Other All-MWC selections were outfielders Carson and Doug Jackson and third baseman Kainoa Obrey to the first team, and shortstop Seth King and outfielder Shane Belliston to the second team. First baseman Michael Wirrick and freshman Jeff Mousser were selected as MWC Player and Pitcher of the Week, respectively, during the last weeks of the season. Wirrick was also voted to the Verizon Academic All-District team.
Belliston and King topped the season with hitting streaks of 25 and 17 games, respectively. Obrey carries a current 12-game hitting streak into next season.
The offense that led BYU to a mid-season nine-game winning streak and a strong finish of 12 wins in the last 15 games, disappeared in the final two games of the season. The Cougars dropped a pair at the NCAA Regional in Lincoln, Nebraska to Rutgers, 4-3, and Northern Iowa, 10-1.
Several BYU and MWC records were broken during the season in addition to Fernley's three already mentioned, including: *1) Tyler Perry hitting 2 triples in the first game against Mesa State; *2) Carson and Ty Haguewood each getting 7 at bats in the 13-inning game at San Francisco; *3) Belliston hitting 3 doubles in the opener at Southern Utah; *4) Fernley striking out 15 in game one at San Francisco; 5) Wirrick being hit by 15 pitches this season; 6) Obrey's 55 strikeouts this season is a new BYU record; *7) Wirrick's two hit by pitches in game three vs. SDSU in Provo and again vs. Utah in the MWC Tournament at San Diego; *8) 37 putouts by BYU at the Univ. of San Francisco breaks the MWC record; and *9) Four double plays by Air Force in its 15-11 victory over BYU ties the MWC record (asterisk indicates MWC record).
Carson was ranked nationally throughout the season in home runs and RBI as was Fernley in victories. Joining them in those NCAA rankings were Jackson and Cameron Coughlan in triples. BYU's .321 batting average also ranked among the nation's best.
Pitching helped the Cougars achieve a goal of winning nearly every series as the staff tallied a 5.08 ERA. In addition to Fernley and Su'a, several hurlers contributed. Lefty Jeff Stone came within six victories of breaking the BYU career-win mark. Ryan Adams had a 5-1 record going behind Fernley's 6-1 record until Adams broke his hand during the first Air Force series. Stone ended up 5-5, while Adams was 6-2. In addition to Su'a's 3-0 record, two other BYU freshmen pitchers tallied 3-0 (Mousser) and 3-1 (Scott Koffman) records. Transfer Matt Ward (4), junior James Ray (3) and freshman Scott Koffman (2) accounted for the bulk of the team's 11 saves.