STOCKTON, Calif. (ABC4 Sports) – The BYU baseball team is headed to the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2002.
The Cougars swept a doubleheader from Gonzaga in the championship round of the West Coast Conference Tournament to earn the automatic bid.
The Cougars, 37-19, regular season tri-champions with Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount, took the “tri” out of the title and earned a championship of their own for the first time since 2002. Impressive victories of 10-3 and 16-3 over the Bulldogs in the West Coast Conference Tournament at Banner Island Ballpark took the sting out of three losses a week ago at Gonzaga (33-20).
While the 16 NCAA Regional sites are announced on Sunday, BYU will learn its placement on Monday at 10:00 a.m. for the 60-minute NCAA Division I Baseball Championship Selection Show on ESPN2.
In the meantime, the well-earned celebration continues from the Cougars clawing back through the elimination bracket via four consecutive wins in the WCC tourney.
Prior to catcher Bronson Larsen being named WCC Tournament MVP, joined by all-tourney teammates Brock Hale, Daniel Schneemann and Maverik Buffo, BYU coach Mike Littlewood got a surprise orange sports drink dousing from his players.
“I told the guys that besides getting married, these were the best two days of my life,” Littlewood said. “After the first game, we flipped the switch and put it all together. I’ve never been more proud of 35 guys in my life.”
“Kendall (Motes) has maybe the best stuff on the team. He gave us four and a third innings that we desperately needed. Then Bo (Burrup) came in and pounded the zone. I told him that’s all he need to do with that lead, was just throw strikes. They (Gonzaga) were defeated. I think they overlooked us a little bit because they didn’t have the same energy, even in the first game. We jumped on them early and that was it.”
Every Cougar batter in the lineup accounted for one of the 16 runs batted in for game two.
In the second frame of the nightcap, David Clawson evened the score in the championship game, stroking a one-run double down the right field line to plate Hale, who had extended his hitting streak to 14 games.
The Cougars strung together five-straight hits, the most lethal by Colton Shaver, who broke his drought with a two-run single to take a 3-1 lead.
Larsen helped the Cougars set a new WCC tournament series record with nine dingers, eclipsing the six by Pepperdine in 2002. Larsen broke the series record with four homers in the tourney when paired with his bomb on Friday.
Larsen’s fourth four-bagger was a leadoff solo shot in the fourth frame for a 4-1 Cougar margin.
Another five-hit string came in the fifth inning when Brennon Anderson extended his on-base streak to 30 games with a leadoff single, later scoring on Tanner Chauncey’s single. Keaton Kringlen got in the hit column with a single to plate Schneemann for a 6-1 cushion, which swelled to 10-1 by the time the inning was finished.
The Cougars forced the championship game with a 10-3 upset over the Zags earlier in the day.
Chauncey belted a towering three-run shot over the short porch in left field in the first inning. Freshman Clawson, playing left field for the first time in his college career, stroked a deep sac-fly to centerfield after he got a second life when a foul pop fly was dropped near third base for a 4-0 lead.
Responding to the pair of runs Gonzaga plated in the second, Nate Favero led off the bottom of that frame with a double to right field and was fortunate after a late jump to third on a flyout. Favero then scored BYU’s fifth run after Schneemann battled back in the count for a sac-fly.
Larsen’ three-run swat over two walls in centerfield gave BYU an 8-2 lead in the third frame of Saturday’s opener.
Among the web gems for BYU in game one was a fifth-inning clutch hug by Schneemann, catching Jeff Bohling’s shallow centerfield pop fly and jumping into the arms of Kringlen charging in to make the play. Starting pitcher Jordan Wood got a pair of double plays from the trio of Anderson, Schneemann and Shaver in the fifth and sixth frames.
Wood improved his record to 5-0 with the win in game one from seven innings of work. While Motes was the starter for game two and pitched well for four and a third innings, his replacement Burrup (4-3) was named the winning pitcher in the championship game.