"We will go in there and play Cougar baseball. I mean, that's what we do," BYU coach Mike Littlewood said. "We don't worry a whole lot about what Cal State Fullerton does. We know they are a well-coached, very talented and confident team. They are going to come out and expect to beat us."
The winner of the four-team Stanford Regional will advance to play the winner of the four-team Long Beach State Regional the following weekend in a Super Regional. The eight Super Regional winners advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
The Stanford Regional is the only one of the 16 that will be played Thursday through Saturday, weather permitting, because of BYU's longstanding policy of not playing athletic events on Sundays. The other regionals will run Friday through Sunday.
"It is what we are, it is what we stand for, it is what we are going to do," Littlewood said Monday on BYUtv, responding to some critics who have said the NCAA shouldn't have to accommodate BYU's policy, which is in place for religious reasons. "I love that we are in the [national] conversation. If it wasn't a topic, we would be packing our bags right now."
No other teams from the West Coast Conference, or the state of Utah, made the 64-team field.
After BYU swept Gonzaga 10-3 and 16-3 on Saturday in Stockton, Calif., to make the NCAAs for the first time since 2002, Kendall Rogers, editor of D1baseball.com, tweeted that the "selection committee should tell BYU to play Sunday and leave it at that. Other teams shouldn't have to accommodate/change schedules."
Another national college baseball writer, Aaron Fitt, tweeted that "the other three teams [in the regional] won't be happy, and I don't blame them."
But there was no muting BYU's happiness Monday. Big cheers rang out when BYU's name popped up on the big screen, although Cal State Fullerton is a college baseball blueblood and will be favored heavily. The Titans finished third in the Big West behind Long Beach State and Cal Poly, but ace pitcher Colton Eastman is back after an injury kept him out of the rotation most of the season.
"I feel like we are the same type of [confident] team," Littlewood said. "We just talk about not playing the name on the front of the jersey. … We are just playing another set of guys. In this setting, you never know what can happen. You just get a couple hits here and there, get a lead, and sometimes those higher-seeded teams get a little tense. They're supposed to win."
Announcers on the ESPN2 broadcast alluded to BYU's prolific offense in setting up the matchup. The Cougars enter the tournament ranked No. 6 in the country in batting average (.324) and No. 6 in runs scored, 8.4 per game.
Stanford, which earned the eighth national overall seed, has won 21 of its last 23 games. Stanford coach Mark Marquess is retiring at the end of the season after 41 years at the helm.
2017 NCAA Division I baseball tournament
At Sunken Diamond, Stanford, Calif.
Thursday's first-round games (times MDT)
2 p.m. • No. 2 Cal State Fullerton (34-21) vs. No. 3 BYU (37-19)
6 p.m. • No. 1 Stanford (40-14) vs. No. 4 Sacramento State (32-27)