OREM — Utah Valley baseball coach Eric Madsen still remembers the bitter feeling to this day and doesn't shy away admitting it. He readily draws on that feeling in discussions with the media along with his players — hoping to inspire great play in memory of his 2012 team's accomplishments and ultimate disappointment.
The 2012 Wolverine team certainly put the program on the map. The team garnered loads of local attention due to its 32-game winning streak, and stellar 42-17 regular season record and 28-0 conference record.
Several assumed the Wolverines' 2012 resume would earn them an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The NCAA tournament selection committee was not among those several, however — electing to leave UVU out of it.
So when UVU's selection as the No. 4 seed in the Baton Rouge regional was announced on Monday, Madsen couldn't help but think of that 2012 team.
“It was bittersweet, for sure, because I know what those guys did. I know how hard they worked and what type of a team they were,” Madsen said. “Without a doubt, I knew they deserved to be in a regional and so, for us to get in now, they’ll get to celebrate with us. … I guess it’s sweet justice that we finally did it.”
UVU gained an automatic bid to the NCAA regionals due to having won the Western Athletic Conference tournament. Sure, the team won its conference back in 2012, but it was part of the Great West Conference back then — a conference that didn't receive an automatic bid.
Since that 2012 year, Madsen has made certain to draw on that team's memory. Current players are very aware of what that team accomplished and have worked hard to emulate the impact that team had on the program.
"We heard all about them — how they hit and how they led the nation in all these categories,” said senior Spencer Gothberg. “So we really had that legacy to live up to. I think that team really set the standard for us, and we’ve been trying to get back up there for four years, and I think we’ve finally been able to reach that goal.”
Indeed, this year's team has made history as the first UVU baseball team to receive a bid into the NCAA tournament.
“What a great opportunity for our guys,” Madsen said. “To be the first team that’s done it — there’s been some great teams ahead of us — so to accomplish this is hard to define what it means to these guys, but I know what it should mean to them.”
Just getting there isn't enough in the team's minds, however. Traveling to the Baton Rouge Regional, players and coaches hope to make another big splash by advancing to the super regional round.
Doing as much won't be easy. First up for the Wolverines in the four-team regional is LSU, a historically successful program that is currently ranked No. 8 nationally. The Tigers have been there and done that many times over, in stark contrast to UVU.
“It’s a storied program. When you think college baseball, you think LSU,” Gothberg said. “So we’re excited to go down there and give it our best shot.”
Other teams in the regional are Rice and Southeastern Louisiana. With UVU as No. 4 seed, few, if any, are expecting the Wolverines to advance, although Madsen is remaining positive and excited for the opportunity.
“This is obviously going to be a big challenge for us, but it’s why you play the game and it’s what you dream about,” Madsen said. “You don’t want to go out, and go through, and have everybody say, ‘Well, they didn’t play anybody.’ So to go out and play against LSU, with their history — it’s going to be an awesome experience.”
To advance after the regional round? Madsen believes his team is capable of doing as much should everything come together.
“We got a bunch of guys that just embrace what they need to do on the field on a daily basis,” Madsen said. “They compete for each other, they play for each other. Every weekend there seems to be a different hero — a different guy that we have to rely on. We’re waiting for that one time when they all click, because it’s going to be special. Hopefully it will be on Friday.”