The baseball season just concluded by BYU's baseball team is one for the ages.

One to forget.

It doesn't represent any season head coach Vance Law ever experienced as a Cougar player in the '70s. It doesn't equate to any he's had in his nine years as BYU's head baseball coach.

This team didn't have very many weapons. The arms on the mound were inconsistent, and the defense was at many times a scarce commodity.

That isn't BYU baseball. And it isn't what folks are used to seeing in either the old field with bleachers or the new-fangled digs, the envy of many around these parts.

The Cougars finished 22-36. For as many games as they played, that represents the fewest number of wins in the published media guide and is likely the poorest winning percentage since the 1950s.

How could it happen? How much responsibility goes to coaching and what portion falls on the players?

That's a loaded question. One follows the other, and both are ultimately intertwined.

It is a fact the Cougars have missed some pitching recruits who either failed to enroll or decided to turn professional or transfer. Guys like left-hander J.S. Stambaugh, who came off an LDS mission and decided to go pro after being the coverboy of his church's New Era magazine. Blaine Howell, another prospect out of North Carolina, played last year, went on a mission, returned early and ended up at a junior college.

But most baseball programs face the challenges of players getting drafted by the major leagues.

BYU signed five high school and two junior college recruits in November, and five of those are pitcher/combo players. Coach Law is poised to announce some more signings this spring but is stressed that these recruits could get drafted and take the money instead of school books.

One of those new recruits is Nathan Bunch, a talented pitcher from Renton, Wash.

Playing in a cold-weather climate may inhibit programs like BYU and Utah from attracting talent. They have to get in more games in less time and always play shortened seasons. In addition, BYU does not play on Sunday, which contributes to the shortening of the season by two weeks. Because of this, there are some weeks in which the team plays six days in a row — not good for pitchers. But that's been a hurdle for years.

At one stage of this season, BYU played eight games in nine days, which included a loss at Utah Valley State College right before playing Washington State.

Also, this is a BYU team without any seniors. That may have cost the program some wins, just by leadership and experience. Throw in the draft, departures for LDS missions, and pitchers who are a little weary of this altitude where fly balls turn into homers. There are some excuses.

After 2007, the Cougars had promising freshman pitcher Brad Kidd (2-0) transfer to Oregon State, a team that won back-to-back NCAA titles.

Ouch.

Law is just a few years away from a couple of seasons in which his Cougars won back-to-back MWC tournament championships. In that span, his squad swept No. 19 Arizona, beat No. 20 Oral Roberts and upset No. 2 Alabama while defeating No. 15 Cal-Northridge in the NCAAs before losing in the 12th inning to USC.

That's success.

Going 0-2 in the MWC championships at Fort Worth is not.

Trying to think of the biggest highlights of this season is a tough job.

That remarkable comeback from trailing Utah 10-0 in the eighth inning to grab a 13-10 win may be at the top of the list. But the Utes certainly watered that down by sending the Cougars reeling into a second-round MWC tournament game in Fort Worth, where the Utes scored a convincing 9-3 first-round victory over their rival on Tuesday.

And face it, a game like that 13-10 slugfest has to be one where pitchers must have been comatose.

The other highlight, or at least the most press received by the program, was when a church leader refused to endorse the team's best hitter, Kent Walton. He was not allowed to enroll at school for winter semester until he was forgiven for allegedly not attending enough church meetings.

And it's tough to fault BYU's final game of the season, a 1-0 pitchers' duel in which Cougar sophomore Blake Torgerson went the distance with 108 pitches and six innings of shutout ball against the Aztecs on Wednesday.

But even then, poetic justice bit Vance Law and his Cougars in the pants. It was a shutout loss, something that hadn't happened in 13 months.

When it bites, it really does take a chunk out of the rear pocket.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com