Season in Review
BYU baseball had a number of bright spots in its 2020 season before the campaign was suddenly cut short after just 16 games due to circumstances regarding the spread of COVID-19.
The Cougars were set to open their first West Coast Conference series at home against LMU on March 12 when concerns about the virus and containment led to the cancellation of the series the day of the opening game. After the NCAA announced the cancellation of all its remaining championships shortly after, BYU and other programs across the country also ended their seasons. BYU was 7-9 on the year when the season closed.
“This was a great bunch of guys to coach, and the potential of this team is unlimited,” head coach Mike Littlewood said. “I think we all knew this particular nonconference schedule was going to be rough on this young team, but I saw progress every day. We were a little up and down throughout our 16 games, which speaks to the inexperience of this team, but we had great wins against a good Gonzaga team, a very good Oregon State team, and to go on the road against a top Big West team in Cal Poly and win the series speaks volumes about these guys.”
The Cougars opened the year with a nonconference victory against rival Gonzaga in Surprise, Arizona, 7-1. With the game tied in the eighth, BYU scored six runs to defeat the Bulldogs.
After close 2-0 and 5-4 losses to New Mexico in a doubleheader, BYU finished its run in Surprise with a victory over No. 25 Oregon State. Down 3-1 in the seventh, BYU tied the game after a ground out by freshman McKay Barney and a wild pitch scored two runs. Then in the eighth, the Cougars loaded the bases before sophomore Zack Petersen was hit by the 10th pitch of his at bat to bring in the go-ahead run. Three freshmen came in from the bullpen to maintain the lead and give BYU a 4-3 win.
In the second weekend of the year, the Cougars played four at Cal Poly, winning three. Another offensive eighth inning led to four runs and a 6-2 victory in game one, helped by zero earned runs and 10 strikeouts from the Cougar pitching staff. BYU won game two, 4-3, on a sac fly by junior Danny Gelalich in the eighth inning.
After the Mustangs won game three, the two teams battled in the second game of the doubleheader for 14 innings before BYU gritted out the win. Freshman Cutter Clawson forced extra innings with a two-out double in the ninth, then kept the tie with his pitching in the bottom of the inning. In the 14th inning, freshman Peyton Cole took a walk on a 3-2 pitch in the second at bat of his BYU career, then advanced to second on a ground out. That’s when Gelalich kept a hit inside the right field line, bringing Cole around for the score. Freshman Tyson Heaton went the final 2.2 innings to earn the victory for the Cougars, including putting Cal Poly down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 14th to seal the win.
BYU and New Mexico met again for four more games in Albuquerque the following weekend, playing for the first time since being long-time conference foes in the Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences. The Lobos took three of four, squeezing out an 8-7 win in game one along with coming out on top in games two and four. In game three BYU had its largest offensive output of the year, winning 18-9 on 17 hits and nine walks. Sophomore Jaren Hall went 3-for-5 with four runs, two walks, five RBI and a grand slam. Freshman Andrew Pintar added four hits and four runs and junior Mitch McIntyre had four RBI.
The Cougars then played their first and only home game of 2020 on March 3 against Utah Valley. BYU gave up four runs in the first inning, then did not allow a run over the last eight innings nor a hit in the final seven frames. BYU broke a 4-4 tie in the fifth when Cole drew a bases-loaded walk, bringing in sophomore Austin Deming for the game-winning run for the 5-4 victory.
BYU’s final games proved to be a series at Oklahoma State. The Cougars played the perennial Big 12 favorites close each game but lost all three.
“Even though we lost three games at Oklahoma State, I was really proud of the way we competed against the reigning Big 12 champions,” Littlewood said.
Statistical leaders for the Cougars included Clawson with a .350 batting average in nine games with seven hits, one home run, five walks and three runs. Among players with 30 or more at bats, Pintar led all players with a .286 average, finishing with 16 hits, 12 runs and three doubles, all team highs. Junior Hayden Leatham led BYU with two home runs while Deming had a team-best 10 RBI. McIntyre led the Cougars with 11 walks and two stolen bases on the year.
On the mound, freshman Bryce Robison led the team with a 1.32 ERA in seven appearances, totaling 10 strikeouts against two earned runs in 13.2 innings. Junior Justin Sterner had a 2.53 ERA in four starts with 24 strikeouts while fellow starter Cy Nielson had a team-high 27 strikeouts in his freshman campaign.
Sophomore Reid McLaughlin and freshman Tyson Heaton led BYU with two wins apiece while Robison, freshman Cooper McKeehan and junior Drew Zimmerman picked up the other wins.
The Cougar pitching staff ended the shortened season averaging 8.4 strikeouts per game, second in program history only to the 8.9 mark set by the 1967 Cougar squad.
Despite starting only underclassmen in the infield, BYU also had 15 double plays on the year, ranking 22nd in the nation in that category.
In all, 34 Cougars saw playing time on the year, 15 of whom were freshmen. Twenty players made at least one start (not counting pitchers), including eight freshmen (not counting pitchers). With a young, talented roster, the underclassmen were called on to fill major roles, with as many as five freshmen starting in the same game, including twice when all four infield positions and the catcher were each freshmen. Eight freshmen also pitched at least one inning this season.
“These guys really know how to compete, and that is something that you just can’t teach,” Littlewood added. “I would have loved to see how all of our young guys progressed through the conference season, I know they would have been great.
“I believe Cougar fans have good reason to be excited about the future of BYU baseball.”