There is still a big target on the back of BYU as the No. One seed in this week's Mountain West Conference Baseball Tournament at San Diego, Calif.
BYU was not among the 16 sites selected Monday from the 32 bids submitted to host an NCAA regional and therefore must earn its way to the NCAA 64-team field. Two possibilities exist--win the automatic berth at the MWC Tournament or be selected as one of the at-large wildcards after 30 conference champions are determined.
BYU, 34-19 overall and 21-8 in the league, will play Wednesday in the opening round against the Air Force Academy, 23-31 and 8-21, at 11 a.m. PDT. The Cougars' second game will be on Thursday at either 11 a.m., or 3 p.m., depending on the win-loss situation.
Everyone will be gunning for the top-seeded Cougars, who achieved a goal by winning the series advantage over each of the five teams in the MWC during the regular season.
Nate Fernley, the nation's winningest pitcher at 14-2, with a 3.20 ERA is scheduled to take the mound for the Cougars against AFA. BYU's pitching staff takes its cue from Fernley and seems to be deep and improving. The Cougars lowered their ERA to 4.95, winning four of five games last week and clinching the MWC regular season title.
In addition to Fernley, BYU has junior lefty Jeff Stone, who is 5-4, with all those victories coming from league play. Stone has a 26-10 career record at BYU.
"This is a great time for all of us to be clicking at the same time," said Stone.
Other pitchers who figure into the equation are three freshmen who have a combined 10-1 record in Justin Su'a, Jeff Mousser, Scott Koffman and Jake Chrisman. Chrisman, who stands 6-foot-eight-inches, announced his decision the beginning of this month to redshirt next year's basketball season and concentrate on baseball.
Not counting pitching saves by Koffman, Stone and Jeff Stearman, bullpen aces Matt Ward and James Ray have three saves each. And if Ryan Adams, 5-2, can return to his pre-injury form, look out.
With the bats the Cougars pack some clout, too, led by Matt Carson, who has a .341 batting average when opponents elect to pitch to him. Carson has 18 home runs, which leads the conference as does his 70 RBI. But teammate Doug Jackson has the top batting average in the league at .380 and fellow Hawai'ian Kainoa Obrey is third in the conference at .376.
Jackson is among the NCAA leaders for triples with seven. Teammate Shane Belliston just had his 25-game hitting streak end, but the new leader in that category is Seth King with 11 games.
BYU concluded a successful home season with a 10-4 record at Larry H. Miller field where it drew 17,378 fans for an average of 1,337 fans, topped by the record-breaking 3,120 crowd last Friday.
The 25-man Cougar squad leaves early Tuesday morning to fly to San Diego. All of the BYU games will be broadcast live locally over KSRR (1400 AM ) Radio, but the only games which will be carried over the Internet are those involving San Diego State at goaztecs.fansonly.com/sports/m-basebl/sdsu-m-basebl-sched.html.