As the NCAA softball tournament selection show wrapped up last Sunday evening on ESPN2, a postseason regular was absent from the field of teams that will compete for a national title.
BYU softball has competed in every NCAA tournament since 2004, missing the event this season for only the fifth time in program history. The school’s postseason streak came to an end as the Cougars were left out of the tournament field during the selection show.
Despite ending the season on a 17-game win streak, with a 42-10 overall record, and the highest winning percentage in school history, BYU’s 2022 schedule will not include a postseason.
The Cougars’ year ended abruptly, the conclusion coming last Saturday after defeating Saint Mary’s 10-0 to clinch a share of a 13th straight conference championship.
It marks only the third time under head coach Gordon Eakin’s watch that the Cougars will miss the postseason — the last time coming in just his second year at the helm.
Even so, Eakin knows there is a lot about which to be positive.
“There is so much good that has transpired with our team through the year,” the longtime BYU coach said. “In their personal growth off the field, in their athletic growth on the field, in their academic successes, there’s just so many things to celebrate.
“Am I proud of this team and will I look at this season and this team with fond memories? I would say absolutely. I think it’s been a success. I wouldn’t trade the players on this team for the world.”
Still, the Cougars’ absence in this year’s tournament is somewhat perplexing. BYU boasts more wins than 55 teams in the field and fewer losses than 53.
Ultimately the Cougars’ tournament chances took their biggest blow during the school’s first weekend series of conference play against Loyola Marymount in early April.
BYU dropped two straight to the Lions after starting the series with a 4-0 shutout victory.
“You have to move on from that,” Eakin said about his team’s losses to LMU. “You can only control what you can control.
“We lost that rubber match game 1-0 in a game we didn’t perform well. We felt like we should have won it. Loyola has been playing great ball, but all we can do is control our outcomes.”
The losses left the Cougars with an uphill climb to defend their West Coast Conference title. BYU did everything it could to reach that goal, winning every game since those defeats.
“I don’t remember any conference championship that has not had pressure,” Eakin said. “I think they’ve all had pressure.
“Now are there more teams trying to knock us off because we’ve been on the top so long? Absolutely. … We know we’re a target and we know teams want to knock us off, but I guess if you’re a true competitor, you probably want to knock off every team that you play.”
Eakin has felt that pressure mount as he’s added hardware and successes to the Cougars’ impressive history.
“I guess I probably feel a little added pressure to continue the consistent winning so I would say that’s grown a little bit over the years, but I don’t remember a single year in my coaching career that there hasn’t been pressure to win a conference championship.”
BYU’s conference title aspirations were realized after LMU lost a game to Santa Clara on the final weekend of conference play, opening the door for the Cougars to become co-champions with the Lions.
But without an outright championship, the door to BYU’s NCAA tournament hopes ultimately slammed shut as LMU received the much-coveted automatic bid.
“I don’t know very many sports franchises that have had nothing but success without it ever being interrupted,” Eakin said.
“I think the message as we go forward, in a conference that only plays 15 conference games, you (must) bring your A-game to the ballpark every single day (to) win a conference championship.”
BYU will learn from this season. While it may have ended on a bit of a sour note, after falling shy of a 17th consecutive NCAA tournament berth, it will serve as greater motivation for the Cougars moving forward.