An eclectic menu
Diverse field heads to starting gate to decide national title
The diversity of teams coming to Salem, Va., for the 2013 NCAA Division II Softball Championships is so great, finding a team to pull for will be easy.
Do you like frontrunners? There’s plenty of those in the eight-team field, as four of the eight top regional seeds made it to final weekend of the season.
How about teams that got hot just in time for postseason? There’s a few of those, as well.
And for the fan of the underdog, there’s Kutztown, which got into the Atlantic sub-region tournament with a No. 6 seed, then allowed just three runs during the sub-regions and super regions on the way to claiming its spot in the bracket.
Play is scheduled to begin at the James I. Moyer Sports Complex at noon Thursday when Southeast Region champion Armstrong Atlantic State –- ranked No. 4 in the final Division II regular-season poll – takes on Central Region champion Central Oklahoma.
Three more games will follow that contest on Thursday in this double-elimination event.
Following is a brief look at each of the eight competing institutions:
Valdosta State (46-11)
The defending national champion Blazers are one of four No. 1 seeds to make it to Salem and was ranked No. 3 in the country in final coaches’ poll of the regular season. They did get a test in last weekend’s super regional, needing to go the distance in their best-of-three matchup with Gulf South Conference rival Alabama-Huntsville.
Armstrong Atlantic State (42-8-1)
The fourth-ranked Pirates had to play its way out of its Southeast regional through the losers’ bracket. They avenged their loss to Columbus State by sweeping the Cougars by scores of 6-2 and 6-2 on the last day of the tournament.
Humboldt State (51-12)
The West Region’s representative is ranked No. 5 and has won 16 consecutive games. Region player of the year Chrissy Stalf is batting .400 with 27 home runs.
Texas Woman’s (51-12)
Ranked No. 6 at regular-season’s end, the Pioneers swept their way through the South Central region and earned the school’s first trip to championship tournament. TWU also got through the super regional by sweeping St. Edwards, the opponent that knocked the Pioneers out of the last year’s NCAA regional tournament.
Grand Valley State (44-7)
The Lakers qualified for both the softball and baseball Division II championships. The softball team, ranked No. 9, earned its place by winning its super regional on the road against the nation’s top-ranked team, Indianapolis.
Central Oklahoma (47-11)
The Bronchos did not reach the final in their conference tournament, but then traveled to the home field of Mid-American Intercollegiate rival Fort Hays State and won the regional. Central Oklahoma followed that up with a pair of wins against Winona State.
One of two finalists not ranked in the final coaches’ poll, the Lions took advantage of being named the host team for their East Regional and advance to the super regional, where they swept host Adelphi. Molloy is as hot as any team in the tournament. The Lions’ last three games have been victories by scores of 6-0, 7-0 and 8-0.
Late bloomers? Perhaps. The Bears lost 14 of 17 games during March and early April. Still, the offense scored an average of more than five runs per game during the postseason, sweeping Kutztown through the conference, regional and super regional tournaments. The Bears will still be playing the underdog role. They’re unranked, while all three of the other teams on their side of the bracket were either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds.