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BYU baseball: Cougars play UC Santa Barbara for their season opener

Mike Littlewood (right) talks to the umpire and opposing coach before a game in 2014.
Mike Littlewood (right) talks to the umpire and opposing coach before a game in 2014.
Mark A. Philbrick, BYU Photo

No. 16 (Collegiate Baseball) UC Santa Barbara hosts BYU baseball in a four-game series starting Friday, Feb. 13, for the season opener.

The Gauchos (34-17-1 in 2014), picked to win the Big West Conference, are the first of two ranked teams BYU (22-31 in 2014 ) plays in consecutive order, followed by No. 23 (Perfect Game) Nebraska the following week in Arizona.

“They have great pitching, a number of excellent returning position players and will be a great challenge for us,” BYU coach Mike Littlewood said. “I believe they were the most athletic team we saw last year.”

However, Littlewood said his team will be up to the challenge.

“We feel very prepared simply because of the good weather allowing us to practice outside all winter,“ Littlewood said. “It has been ​nice not seeing four walls and a ceiling all winter. Being outside has enabled us to work on our offensive game and more team defense which we can’t do fully in the IPF (Indoor Practice Facility). Practicing outside also levels the playing field just a bit with teams that are able to be outside year-round."

While there are technically only a couple of new players in the probable Cougar lineup, BYU fields an experienced, talented squad.

“I'm not sure the so-called experts know our personnel and I believe we could sneak up on some people,” Littlewood said, as preseason polls have BYU picked seventh in the West Coast Conference.

Freshmen Brian Hsu and Colton Shaver, returned missionaries Tanner Chauncey and Cole Wilstead, and junior college transfer pitchers Brady Corless and Austin Kamel are the newcomers that are most likely to see playing time in the season-opening series.

Hsu is in a nice battle with senior Parker Starr at third base. Shaver could see playing time at multiple positions, with Wilstead seeing time at DH or first base. Chauncey, who was drafted in the 35th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers last year while he was still serving in Brazil, was BYU’s leading hitter in 2012. Righty Corless is the probable Cougar starter in game four on Monday at 2 p.m.

Starting for the Cougars on the mound in Friday’s 2 p.m. opener will be junior Kolton Mahoney (6-6, 3.97), who was drafted in the 23rd round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014. Starting in Saturday’s doubleheader, beginning at 11 a.m., will be sophomore lefty Hayden Rogers (2-4, 2.93) and senior Jeff Barker (6-5, 3.80).

“I expect this team to pitch it well, play good defense and execute offensively,” Littlewood said. “We are ready to play.”

Ralph R. Zobell has worked for BYU Athletic Media Relations in various capacities for over 30 years. You can view his bio at byucougars.com/staff/athletics/ralph-zobell or contact him at ralph_zobell@byu.edu.