After losing 13-2 to Cal State Fullerton Thursday, things went from bad to worse for BYU Friday afternoon, when it fell behind 1-0 in the first inning of an elimination game against Sacramento State.
But the No. 3 seeded Cougars and starting pitcher Hayden Rogers settled in and cruised to a 6-1 victory to dispatch the No. 4 Hornets from the Stanford Regional.
“Hayden was outstanding today,” BYU coach Mike Littlewood told KOVO radio. “We’ve said all year that he’s really a bulldog.”
It marked the Cougars’ first NCAA Tournament victory in 15 years and their fifth consecutive victory in an elimination game — including the four they won last week in the West Coast Conference Tournament.
BYU advances to play top-seed, and Regional host, Stanford Saturday (2 p.m., MDT, ESPN3) at Klein Field at Sunken Diamond.
The Cardinal fell to Cal State Fullerton Friday night, 4-1. Stanford is the No. 8 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Maverik Buffo is expected to start for BYU in that showdown. The winner of BYU-Stanford will take on Cal State Fullerton in the Regional final. The Cougars need to win two games Saturday to keep their season alive.
Rogers, who improved to 9-2, struck out a season-high eight batters in seven innings against Sacramento State. Mason Marshall relieved Rogers to close out the game.
“Mostly, I wanted to get some outs for my team so we can win a game and keep playing together,” said Marshall. “(Thursday), I felt like I couldn’t buy an out and today I missed a couple of pitches and they gave me a couple of outs. It’s just baseball. It’s good to get that win and keep playing.”
Trailing 1-0 going into the third inning, Littlewood addressed his team.
“It was weird because it felt like it did at Gonzaga (two weeks ago). Every guy felt like they had to do it themselves,” he said. “We got the team together in the top of the third and told them to relax. We’ve done it all year. Just put together good at-bats and something will happen.”
Brian Hsu got things started with a base hit that kick-started a three-run third inning. Bronson Larsen’s RBI single in the sixth lifted BYU to a 4-1 advantage. Tanner Chauncey, who went 3-for-5 with three RBI, belted a two-run double in the seventh to make it 6-1.
What makes the Cougars so good in elimination games?
“It’s playing with nothing to lose,” Marshall said. “Last week, we were just like, ‘If we lose, so what? Let’s just play to play.’ We make a Regional and it’s the same thing. Let’s just do what we know what we can do.”
“We sure don’t quit,” Littlewood said. “It was a little bit embarrassing to get beat up that bad (Thursday against Cal State Fullerton). But the guys have done this all year long. They’re mentally tough and I knew we’d come back and fight. I’m proud of the way they came back and fought their tails off.”