How interim coach Trent Pratt is keeping BYU baseball's season afloat

BYU baseball interim head coach Trent Pratt, right, talks to his team during a game against San Diego, Saturday, April 23, 2022 at Miller Park in Provo. (Donovan Kelly, BYU Photo)

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PROVO — When the BYU baseball team was stunned by the sudden and abrupt resignation of longtime manager Mike Littlewood two weeks ago, the Cougars faced a choice.

They either could sit and feel sorry for themselves, perhaps pack it in on a season that was good but hardly spectacular; or they could've done the opposite and tried to fight for interim head coach Trent Pratt and the rest of the coaching staff tasked with picking up the pieces of the campaign.

They chose the latter; and while an imperfect situation has hardly been made perfect, it hasn't been a collapsing Jenga tower, either.

The Cougars (21-16) are 4-4 since that shock resignation heading into Tuesday's midweek nonconference game against crosstown rival Utah Valley (6 p.m. MDT, That includes taking three of four games from a road trip to Nebraska less than three days after the resignation, a late loss at archrival Utah a week later, and a pair of losses against the second-rated team in the West Coast Conference in San Diego.

"It was a little crazy at first, but now that we've settled in, the rest of our coaching staff has been intact … and the kids have been awesome," said Pratt, who has been at BYU since 2013 and associate head coach for the past four. "They're playing hard, and we were one big swing away from winning 2 of 3 last week."

It's hardly been perfect — how can it be after program-changing news like what the Cougars just faced? But it's hardly been a disaster, either, with three of the four losses coming by one run.

"They don't panic a whole lot," Pratt, who prepped at Tooele High and was USA Today's Utah Player of the Year in 1998 before playing at Arizona State and Auburn, told ESPN radio in Utah County. "It doesn't matter what the scoreboard says; they just keep playing.

"I think they've done a really good job of that all year, of not looking at the scoreboard, of knowing what they want to do. Credit to the players — they've done a good job of sticking together."

He'll rarely, if ever, take credit for it, but Pratt has been as stabilizing of an influence on the BatCats as they come in a time of massive uncertainty.

Every level of the Cougars' coaching staff has been affected, with Pratt taking over as manager from his usual hitting coach role, recruiting coordinator Brent Haring and pitching coach Michael Bradshaw adding additional coaching responsibilities, and director of baseball operations Tuckett Slade moving into a de facto third assistant role.

Even sports information director Duff Tittle has added a job, sliding into the radio booth on occasion to replace Slade, who often served as color analyst for BYU Radio broadcasts on the road. Everyone has a job to do on Pratt's interim staff — and in most cases, an extra one, at that.

In some circles, namely with an open campaign among several BYU baseball alumni on social media, Pratt is seen as a potential full-time replacement for Littlewood. If nothing else, the current interim coach has the old manager's approval, if that becomes the answer for the assistant who along with Littlewood helped develop 29 all-WCC honorees, eight all-region selections, five Freshman All-Americans, two All-Americans and 14 MLB Draft picks.

The interim head coach doesn't have time to worry about that — his job is today, not next season. His only concern is the next game, Pratt said. But if anybody deserves a chance at the head coaching job just a year before BYU joins the Big 12, it's Pratt, his old boss believes.

"There were a handful of series at Dixie that I missed because I was working March Madness (as a basketball official) and Trent took over during those times," Littlewood told BYUtv's Dave McCann. "He has the experience at the college level of being a head coach on the field."

Pratt's players are responding to him, as well.

BYU baseball players celebrate catcher Collin Reuter during a game against San Diego, Saturday, April 23, 2022 at Miller Park in Provo.
BYU baseball players celebrate catcher Collin Reuter during a game against San Diego, Saturday, April 23, 2022 at Miller Park in Provo. (Photo: Donovan Kelly, BYU Photo)

"I think a lot of the guys are fired up, and play with a lot of intensity for him," said Ozzie Pratt, the BYU freshman infielder and nephew of the interim coach. "I just think we get energy levels and keep that energy up, keep climbing with it.

"Trent just got us with awful news; everybody was kind of shellshocked. And then they went and said, the baseball field is where we feel comfortable. None of that other stuff matters. The field is where we do what we do, and we just went at it. We're going to keep going at it."

From shellshocked to swinging for the fences, the Cougars realized they have a lot of baseball left in them, and coach Pratt was the man to lead them there, including through a seven-game California road trip after Tuesday before returning home May 10 against Dixie State.

"I think we've come closer as a team," said Collin Reuter, who was recruited to BYU by Littlewood from Oxford, Mississippi, (where he went to high school with the younger Pratt). "Having that big of a loss, yeah, it hurts a lot. But having coach Pratt lead us now, he's doing a really good job. We all love him, and we ride-or-die with him.

"We all want to do well for him, come together as a team — and have fun."

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