The regular season is winding down in Division II baseball. That means the grind of conference championships — a season in itself — is upon us.
DII baseball seems to have some familiar faces as favorites this season. Every year, there seems to be a few surprise programs that find their way amongst the last eight teams standing.
Who amongst the NCBWA Top 25 could surprise and find their way to Grand Prairie, Texas?
Southern New Hampshire
It’s hard to call the No. 4-ranked team in the country a surprise, but let’s face facts. Northeast-10 baseball teams aren’t traditionally known for deep runs to the championship series.
These Penmen can change all that.
Last season Southern New Hampshire set a program record behind a 50-win season. It was their incredible run in the East Regionals that would prove invaluable. They won five-consecutive elimination games before finally succumbing to NE10 perennial-favorite Franklin Pierce.
The Penmen have enough returners that learned from that experience and are once again climbing to new heights. They are in the midst of a 12-game winning streak, including the first-ever program sweep of Franklin Pierce. Jake Sterns remained undefeated in a big series opening win Thursday night against Merrimack, moving to 6-0 with a 2.68 ERA. The victory clinched the 2017 NE10 Northeast Division title. Now the Penmen set out for their second consecutive NE10 tournament title.
Fifth-year senior third baseman Zach Goldstein leads the charge. He is hitting .340, while getting on base at an impressive .483 lick. He and sophomore outfielder John Stanton have combined for 43 stolen bases, forming one of the fastest base-stealing tandems in the NE10. Junior transfer Ryan Sullivan is having a big debut, leading the NE10 in home runs and placing third with 38 RBI.
The pitching staff is anchored by Preseason NCBWA All-East Region senior Alex Person, who has a team-best seven wins. Keep an eye on junior Mitchell Powers who leads all starters with a 1.82 ERA and team-best 76 strikeouts.
There is a good chance you have never heard of the Timberwolves. Not known as a perennial baseball power, Northwood averaged just 21 wins over the past six years, including a string of four-straight losing seasons. Head coach Jordan Bischel took over in 2015 and changed that, with consecutive winning seasons.
Now he has his third in three tries.
Projected to finished fifth in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the Timberwolves have come out of nowhere, sitting atop the GLIAC standings.
While it may be a surprise to the baseball world, this was a roster full of returning upperclassmen, 23 to be precise. As they prepare for their regular season finale against Findlay, they have already established a program-best in wins (35), while picking up their highest NCBWA ranking ever (No. 11 last week, falling to No. 12 this week) and their first-ever No. 1 Midwest Region ranking, which they have held onto for consecutive weeks.
Senior Connor Foley is building off his breakout junior season, batting .408 and getting on base at a team-best .495 OBP. He paces a balanced power attack, joining junior first baseman Ryan McClelland and senior pitcher/infielder Daniel Pulver with a team-best six home runs apiece.
Despite the upperclassmen presence, freshman outfielder David Vinsky has turned heads. He is leading the GLIAC with a .453 batting average and is second in DII with 23 doubles.
The pitching staff is certainly a strength, with five starters who have made at least seven starts. Junior Tyler Jandron paces the bunch, behind a 9-1 record, a 2.90 ERA and a team-best 71 strikeouts.
A deep pitching staff, a group that hits for contact and produces runs like a factory. It's quite possibly the feel-good story of DII baseball. Teams definitely better not sleep on the Timberwolves this May.
The Lancers were coined “Pitcher U” earlier this spring. Gary Adcock’s teams have enjoyed much success of late behind Major League-caliber pitching, and they had more this season. Ranked No. 8 in the NCBWA Preseason Poll and projected to repeat as PacWest champions, much was expected of the Lancers.
Things didn’t exactly go as planned.
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The Lancers were swept on their opening weekend. They slipped out of the rankings and people forgot about them a little bit. That may have been a mistake.
CBU is back in the Top 25, sitting at No. 24. They are winners of five in a row, and seven of their last eight, including a big 3-1 series win over PacWest leading No. 9-ranked Azusa Pacific.
The PacWest has become a power player in DII baseball backed by strong pitching. When you add in the CCAA, the West Region is one of the toughest gauntlets out there. Four teams are in the Top 25, while one is receiving votes. Whoever escapes as winner of the region becomes an immediate contender.
The Lancers once again are backed by solid pitching. Garett King was roughed up a bit in his last start but was dominant in their big series win against Azusa Pacific. He is 7-1 with a 2.33 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 77.1 innings. King earned praise when he threw a 15-strikeout no-hitter on March 23rd.
The projected Big Three of King, Justin Montgomery and freshman Logan Rinehart have seen both struggles and absences. Montgomery hasn’t pitched since March, but Rinehart is coming off two of his strongest starts. The bullpen has been nothing short of sensational.
Just because they are known for pitching, don’t sleep on their offense. They are in the Top 3 in the PacWest in every category.
Can a team just two years removed from their first championship series really be under the radar? It’s possible, but you simply can’t sleep on Catawba’s offense. The Indians are fifth in DII in batting average (.341), second in home runs (83), third in runs (450), first in doubles (123) and 20th in on base percentage (.415).
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Still, Catawba finds themselves ranked 23rd and fourth in their own region. That’s because they have two legitimate championship contenders in North Georgia and Mount Olive to contend with. If their offense heats up with the summer months, they can hang with anybody, and could be forgotten about in such a deep region.
Millersville and Nova Southeastern:
Remember these guys? They faced off in a memorable DII Baseball Championship Series last June. Both teams kind of disappeared falling out of the rankings, but now find themselves at No. 22 and No. 21 respectively. Both teams also find themselves amid six-game winning streaks.
The Marauders and the Sharks both have huge matchups to close out their regular season. Millersville battles the tricky Shippensburg offense, while the Sharks face off against a Florida Tech team ranked ninth in their region. If both teams come out with series wins and carry that momentum into their postseasons, combined with the experience of last season, they suddenly become dangerous teams to watch.