I’ve been waiting for that moment for a long time. I was able to play in a couple of those (regionals) a long time ago. They’re just really special. It’s really gratifying for me to see the fruits of (the players’) labor come to fruition right now. – BYU head coach Mike Littlewood
PROVO — It's taken 15 years for the BYU baseball team to clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament and the Cougars accomplished that feat in improbable fashion.
After claiming the West Coast Conference Tournament championship over the weekend, BYU (37-19) learned Monday morning it will take on Cal State Fullerton (34-21) Thursday in the Stanford Regional in Palo Alto, California.
“It’s insane to think that it’s been 15 years since BYU's been in the regional,” said second baseman Brennon Anderson, who gathered with his teammates and coaches at the BYU Broadcast Building on Memorial Day to watch the Selection Show. “And to think that we were the team to do it, to break through, is just awesome.”
“I’ve been waiting for that moment for a long time,” said coach Mike Littlewood, a former Cougar player. “I was able to play in a couple of those (regionals) a long time ago. They’re just really special … It’s really gratifying for me to see the fruits of (the players’) labor come to fruition right now.”
Stanford (40-14) is the No. 1 seed in the regional and the No. 8 seed overall. The Cardinal will host Sacramento State (32-27) Thursday.
BYU had to win four consecutive elimination games in the WCC Tournament last weekend to put itself in this position.
“It’s amazing. It’s surreal,” said Cougar pitcher Hayden Rogers. “That was awesome to see BYU’s name up there on the TV screen. It’s always been cool to watch March Madness for basketball and you always think about how great that would be. I was so excited to see our name and to know that we’re playing in a regional. That’s quite the feat. What coach Littlewood has done for this program has been amazing. We’re just going to get better. I’m excited to be part of the team that broke the ice and got us to regionals.”
The Cougars are the No. 3 seed in the Stanford Regional and Cal-State Fullerton, which earned an at-large bid out of the Big West Conference, is the No. 2 seed.
“Cal State Fullerton is a really good team. A lot of tradition, a lot of history, well-coached and they’re really good players as well,” Littlewood said. “It’s going to be a battle but I feel like our mentality is really good right now. We’re just going to compete our tails off and see what happens.”
After a magical weekend at the WCC Tournament in Stockton, BYU is happy to be returning to Northern California.
“It’s perfect for us. We’ve played there a ton. We’re used to playing in California,” Anderson said. “The facilities at Stanford are top of the line. It’s a great place to start out. We’re headed right back to California, where we just got back from.”
“We’ve been there like six times this year so we might as well go back,” Littlewood said. “It’s like a second home for us. We feel comfortable on the West Coast and we spend a lot of time there. Honestly, I would rather go there than go a long way away from home and get out of your comfort zone. I feel good about that.”
To earn its first trip to the NCAAs in 15 years, BYU won four games in two days, including a Saturday sweep of Gonzaga, which had swept the Cougars a weekend earlier.
“It was good to beat Gonzaga because they got to see the team that we really are,” Anderson said. “They saw our true colors. That’s how we’ve been all year. They didn’t really get to see the real BYU the week before. To be able to dog-pile in front of them — they had done that in front of us — was great. We got to pay them back a little bit.”
BYU is the only WCC team in the 68-team field. Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount, which shared the regular-season title with the Cougars, did not receive bids.
For BYU, returning to the regionals after a 15-year drought is sweet.
“It’s amazing. It’s a dream come true,” Rogers said. “You grow up watching regionals and super regionals and the College World Series. To be a part of it is unexplainable. I can’t put words to it. I’m incredibly excited to go out and battle.”