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‘Some ups and downs’: After rocky start, young BYU baseball team has found its groove

The Cougars want to finish strong but they’re also building for the future

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BYU pitcher Luke Sterner delivers a pitch during game against Utah in Salt Lake City.

Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

On April 24, the BYU baseball team was swept by Gonzaga. At that point, the Cougars sported a dismal 12-23 overall record and a 6-9 mark in the West Coast Conference. 

What followed was a seven-game win steak, which was snapped after a 13-12 road loss at San Diego last Saturday. 

That’s the kind of season it’s been for BYU (19-24, 11-10). After plenty of disappointments and difficult losses, the Cougars are finally learning how to win.

According to coach Mike Littlewood, BYU’s inconsistency this season has much to do with its youth, coming off a season that was shortened by the pandemic. 

“We want to win games. This team is finally starting to learn how to win games. This is our 10th road trip of the year. It feels like we’ve been on the road the entire year. It’s a grind on the guys. I want to finish strong.” — Mike Littlewood

“We were so inexperienced at the Division I level. We lost the year. All of our really good freshmen didn’t have the chance to get any experience. They were coming in this year as brand-new greenies. They had no clue what was going on,” he said. “It took them a while to figure out how to win and how to play and how to compete at this level and gain confidence and do all the things that young guys have to go through.

“We really relied on five or six freshmen hitting in the middle of our lineup. Usually, you’d hit a freshman eight or nine in the batting order and they’d be surrounded by all these seniors that would get the job done,” Littlewood continued. “(Senior) Mitch McIntyre and (junior) Austin Deming were the only guys coming into the season who had over 100 at-bats at the Division I level. That’s probably the reason — they found a confidence and a way to play at this level, how you’re supposed to play the game. It’s been fun to see.”

Fifth-place BYU opens a three-game series at last-place Pacific starting Thursday. 

Freshman infielder Andrew Pintar, who was named WCC Player of the Week this week, acknowledged his team has struggled but that it’s made a lot of improvement as the year has unfolded.

“We’ve had some ups and downs this season. We’re progressing. We’re getting better every day. I can see it and we can definitely see it these past eight games,” he said. “We’ve really come together as a team.”

To what does Pintar think is responsible for the turnaround? 

“We’ve had a lot of team meetings lately. We’re starting to play for each other and trusting each other and having fun,” he said. “That’s one thing we struggled with at first, putting too much pressure on ourselves to where we weren’t having fun. It was hard to come to the park every day. We learned to play more stress-free but still locked in. That’s really shown the last couple of weeks.

“Our pitching has done great and our hitting has come together. We’re starting to play a lot better. Hopefully, we can carry that into the last couple of weeks. We’ve learned to play relaxed and have fun. That’s when we’re all at our best. We were all good high school players. We look back and that’s when we were having fun. We were like, Why not take it into here? We’ve all realized that. Now we’re starting to show it.”

With no WCC tournament this season, winning the regular-season title and earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament appears to be beyond the realm of possibility. Gonzaga leads the league with a 14-4 record. 

Entering the final few weeks of the season, and with just six WCC games remaining, the Cougars are focused on finishing strong. 

“We want to win games. This team is finally starting to learn how to win games,” Littlewood said. “This is our 10th road trip of the year. It feels like we’ve been on the road the entire year. It’s a grind on the guys. I want to finish strong.

“As poorly as we’ve played, and the close games that we’ve lost here and there, it’s pretty crazy that we’re playing so well right now with a chance to jump back in (the conference race). I kind of wish we had a WCC tournament this year because we would be vying for that third- or fourth-place spot and a chance for a regional.

“But we want to go out and get better every day and carry some momentum into next year. This team’s going to be together for two or three years, which doesn’t happen at BYU — pitching staff and position players. The future looks good but we want the future to be now.”