PROVO — In the days leading up to the West Coast Conference Tournament, BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood underscored the importance of winning the first game.
“If we could win the first game, I would use all 10 of our pitchers if we had to,” he said. “If you go to the loser’s bracket, it’s a tough, tough road. It’s an uphill battle if you lose Game 1. Not that it can’t be done. But it’s easier when you win the first game.”
So things looked bleak Thursday night when the Cougars fell 3-2 to Loyola Marymount in their first game of the tournament. BYU’s offense was punchless, managing a meager three hits.
At that point, the Cougars had lost four consecutive games, including three straight defeats the previous weekend at Gonzaga.
What happened next was a remarkable turnaround. BYU took that arduous path, winning four consecutive elimination games to claim its first-ever WCC Tournament championship and earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2002.
The Cougars scrapped their way past, and eliminated, both Saint Mary’s and Loyola Marymount Friday, then clobbered Gonzaga twice by scores of 10-3 and 16-3 Saturday.
"I told the guys that besides getting married, these were the best two days of my life," Littlewood said Saturday night. "After the first game, we flipped the switch and put it all together. I've never been more proud of 35 guys in my life."
BYU will find out its NCAA regional destination during the Selection Show Monday (10 a.m.) on ESPN2.
The Cougars enjoyed brilliant starting pitching during the tournament from Brady Corless, Maverik Buffo, Jordan Wood and Hayden Rogers.
In the final game, Kendall Motes and Bo Burrup combined to shut down Gonzaga’s bats.
"Kendall has maybe the best stuff on the team,” Littlewood said. “He gave us four and a third innings that we desperately needed. Then Bo came in and pounded the zone. I told him that's all he needed to do with that lead was just throw strikes.”
The Cougar offense, which had been dormant for about a week, rose up Friday and Saturday.
BYU exploded for 25 hits in the title game, with Brock Hale, Daniel Schneemann and David Clawson each collecting four hits.
The WCC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player was Cougar left fielder Bronson Larsen, who belted four home runs during the tournament.
Larsen drilled a solo home run in the fourth inning of Saturday’s nightcap, breaking a WCC Tournament record for homers with four. As a team, the Cougars set a WCC Tournament record with nine home runs. Pepperdine owned the previous record of six homers, set in 2002.
Just one week after BYU lost three straight games to the Zags by a combined score of 26-8 in Spokane, the Cougars beat Gonzaga 26-6 in two games Saturday in Stockton.
"They were defeated,” Littlewood said of the Zags. “I think they overlooked us a little bit because they didn't have the same energy, even in the first game. We jumped on them early and that was it.”