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BYU baseball: Pepperdine cools off red-hot Cougars

Published April 13, 2017 11:52 pm

BYU baseball • They lose 11-7 to Pepperdine Thursday at home.
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Provo • The BYU baseball team that fifth-year coach Mike Littlewood promised at the beginning of the season has finally arrived.

Hopes for the Cougars to make it to the four-team West Coast Conference tournament, let alone the NCAA Tournament, were dim on March 25 when Loyola Marymount's Cory Abbott threw a perfect game against them in Los Angeles. It was the first-ever perfect game thrown against BYU and first time the Cougars failed to get a hit in a nine-inning game since a loss to San Diego State in 1966.

But BYU turned it around in a hurry, winning eight of its next nine games before Pepperdine snapped its four-game winning streak with an 11-7 victory Thursday night at Larry Miller Field.

The only other loss in the stretch was a 9-6 setback to the Pac-12's Oregon in which the Cougars committed six errors.

"Early in the season, I said this is a team that could rattle off a 15-5 record, or 10-4 record, and we've done that," Littlewood said. "With baseball, playing 55, 56 games, it is consistency that matters, just being even-keeled throughout the season. And that's what we've been doing."

They've kept it rolling despite losing leading hitter Brock Hale (.398 average) to a sprained knee. Since failing to score against the Lions, they've put up 82 runs in 10 games.

Sophomore outfielder Keaton Kringlen and senior catcher/left fielder Bronson Larsen have powered the run, with Kringlen earning National Player of the Week honors two weeks ago for hitting three homers in a game against Saint Mary's, among other big hits. Larsen hit two homers Thursday.

Infielder Tanner Chauncey has also been hot, and he extended his hitting streak to 10 games with an RBI single in the sixth. Junior slugger Colton Shaver is finally picking it up after a slow start, doubling and homering. It was Shaver's fifth dinger of the year after he hit 10 in 2016 and 13 as a freshman in 2015.

On the mound, starters Maverik Buffo, Brady Corless, Hayden Rogers and Jordan Wood had given up just six runs in BYU's past four games.

Buffo dropped to 4-4 after taking the loss Thursday as Pepperdine chased him with four runs in the fourth and finished with 18 hits.

"I think it starts with pitching," Chauncey said. "Our pitching the last few weeks has been really good, and it takes some pressure off the hitters when pitchers are going out there and throwing up a lot of zeros. We can go up to the plate and we don't have to press. We don't have to force anything. If we just string together a few hits and put up a few runs, that is going to be enough to win games."

Throw out the Oregon debacle, and Littlewood's defense has been stellar for more than a month now. The Cougars' fielding percentage of .973 ranks 74th in the country.

"I love us defensively," Littlewood said, crediting Kyle Dean for keying the defense in the outfield after Hale's injury.

The Waves and Cougars return to the diamond Friday for another 6 p.m. contest before ending the series at 1 p.m. Saturday.

drew@sltrib.com Twitter: @drewjay




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