PROVO — A hush fell over the BYU baseball team as it sat in Studio C at the BYU Broadcasting Building, watching the NCAA selection show on ESPN2 together.
The Cougars already knew they were in — four wins in two days over the West Coast Conference Tournament had already secured that.
But when the name of Oregon State popped up in its own Corvallis regional, the players fell silent. Could BYU — making its first tournament appearance in 15 years — fall into the same regional as the No. 1 overall seed?
Not so fast; Holy Cross, Nebraska and Yale came off the board, and the Cougars breathed an audible sigh of relief.
Instead, they would be going back, back, back to California.
BYU (37-19) will play Cal State Fullerton at 2 p.m. MDT Thursday in the Stanford regional in the Cougars’ first stop on the road to the College World Series, in Omaha, Nebraska, since 2002.
“I’ve been waiting for that moment for a long time,” said BYU coach Mike Littlewood, who took the job at his alma mater in 2012 after 16 seasons at Dixie State. “I was able to play in a couple of those a long, long time ago, and they are really special. You don’t realize all the hard work off the field, in the weight room and classroom; these guys put in a lot of time as student-athletes.
“It’s really gratifying for me to see the fruits of the labor come to fruition right now.”
Stanford will host Western Athletic Conference champion Sacramento State in the other game of the double-elimination regional Thursday. The winners will face off at 7 p.m. MDT Friday, with the championship series scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m. MDT.
For BYU, just making the regional field represents a key benchmark in the Cougars’ long road back to national relevance.
Playing in California is even better; the Cougars have played in the Golden State 24 times in 2017, posting a 16-8 record that includes a 4-1 mark in last week’s WCC tournament in Stockton, California.
“I feel like we have a better history of pitching in California, and if our pitchers are going well, we’ll be all right,” said Bronson Larsen, the WCC tournament MVP with a .344 batting average and 16 home runs on the season.
Littlewood said the Cougars will likely start Brady Corless in the regional opener against the Titans (34-21). The perennial Big West power ended the season losing three of its final four games, including two to regional host Long Beach State.
The Cougars took quality depth out of their entire pitching rotation down the stretch, especially in positive starts by sophomore Jordan Wood and Kendall Motes in the WCC championship series.
“We love California, and we love to pitch in California,” said Wood, who is 5-0 on the season with a 5.03 ERA. “We seem to do pretty well in California, so it’s a good place to go for us.”
Seven of the nine tournament bids from the West Coast will play in regional sites at Stanford and Long Beach. BYU and Texas are the only teams from outside California in either of the two California regionals.
But Littlewood likes his team’s chances, especially with the results of the WCC tournament.
“The way we are playing right now, I feel like we’ve hit good pitching all year long,” Littlewood said. “Cal State Fullerton is a really good team with a lot of tradition and history. They have really good players, and it’s going to be a battle.
“I feel like our mentality is really good right now. We’re just going to compete our tails off, and see what happens.”