Hayden Nielsen had a pair of singles and was part of two double plays in a 7-4 WCC Tournament-eliminating loss to San Diego. (Photo by Kyle Terada)
STOCKTON, Calif.—For the second consecutive night the San Diego Toreros defeated BYU baseball, eliminating the Cougars from the West Coast Conference Tournament Friday in a 7-4 decision.
USD (34-23) played its way back into the tournament championship after falling into the elimination bracket by virtue of a 10-8 loss to San Francisco hours earlier on a walk-off three-run homer. The final will be played Saturday evening.
“At some point you have to say San Diego is a better than us,” BYU coach Mike Littlewood said. “We need to get our program better so we can beat them five times. We didn’t play our cleanest game, didn’t execute, didn’t play defense and didn’t get the key hits.”
The Cougars (32-21) earned their way into game five of the WCC tourney with an 8-1 victory earlier Friday when they eliminated No. 1 seed Gonzaga, the regular season champion.
On Friday evening the Toreros rebounded from the devastation of the USF loss and took a 1-0 lead in the second inning from a pair of Cougar errors. Fortunately for BYU, All-American Kris Bryant flied out to Jaycob Brugman in right field with the bases loaded to end the second frame.
However, Bryant belted his 31st homer of the season to lead off the three-run fifth inning when the Toreros took a 4-0 advantage.
The Cougars later got the benefit of a solo homer by Brugman to lead off the seventh inning and a two-run, towering blast over the right field porch by Kelton Caldwell to close the gap, 4-3.
Prior to that, BYU’s best chance to score early in the game came in the fourth inning when Jacob Hannemann drew a lead-off walk and eventually advanced to third. Teammate Brennon Anderson, who got aboard on an error, was stranded at second that same inning.
“It felt like we were out of the game,” Littlewood said. “When we got down four runs, it felt like we were down 15.”
In the eighth inning USD wore the Cougar starting pitcher down after he had fired 142 pitches. The Toreros tacked on a pair of runs in the eighth for a 6-4 lead, with a final run coming in the ninth.
“We were a hit or two away from winning either game,” Littlewood said in reference to the pair of losses to San Diego. "We felt like we belonged here.
“Of the 27 years I’ve coached on the high school and JC level, D-II and now this level, this was the most rewarding,” Littlewood said. “Obviously the national championship in junior college was cool, but to coach a bunch of guys who were just trying to find themselves, now we are starting to get guys who are starting to buy into it.”
The Cougars await word, hoping for an NCAA tournament shot should the WCC be rewarded three berths during Monday's selection show.