Finally, the DII baseball season is upon us. Arkansas Monticello and Colorado School of Mines got the action rolling from Minute Maid Park on Friday in the 2020 Houston Winter Invitational.
Here's where you can find a preview, the schedule and scores from the weekend as well as a look at three more games outside the tournament we are excited to see.
Houston Winter Invitational: Previewing the six-team field
Central Missouri opens the year for a third-straight season at Minute Maid Park. That's because Houston Astros owner Jim Crane is a Mules' alum. Thus far, Crane hasn't seen his alma mater find great success, going 1-2 in each of the first two Winter Invitationals. This year, however, Central Missouri enters the tournament ranked fourth in both the NCAA.com preseason poll as well as the NCBWA.
The Mules aren't alone. Three other teams open the year in the preseason top 25. No. 18 Millersville, No. 21 Arkansas-Monticello and No. 23 Colorado School of Mines round out the ranked schools while Flagler and Arkansas Tech round out the full six-team field.
Both Central Missouri and Millersville enter the season with tremendous expectations. We predicted the Mules and Marauders would reach Cary, North Carolina as part of the eight-team field in the 2020 DII baseball championship finals. The two teams face each other on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in what could be a very-early preview of what's to come.
The Boll Weevils are favorites in the Great American Conference returning the GAC pitcher of the year Matt Lundh and freshman of the year Cade Thompson. They'll escape Houston not having to face conference rival Arkansas Tech, who were pegged fourth in the GAC. The Wonder Boys will have a huge test right off the bat, facing the Marauders at 2:30 p.m. ET on Friday.
The Orediggers should be very good this season. While Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference baseball is known for big-time power and hitters, this Mines team returns three solid arms on the mound in Walter Pennington, Drew Hill and Tyler Blomster, which is always an advantage. Coming out of Houston with wins against the Boll Weeviils and Mules will certainly send a message to the rest of a stacked South Central Region.
Flagler opens the season against two top 25 opponents in Central Missouri and Arkansas-Monticello, both games the 6:00 p.m. ET matchups. The Saints are coming off a 30-win season and are projected to finish sixth in the Peach Belt Conference. They'll have some work to do in the rotation where they lose three seniors who made a combined 33 starts.
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Houston Winter Invitational: Schedule, times, results (all times Eastern)
Here is the full schedule for the weekend from Houston.
Friday, Jan. 31 (note: second and third games subject to change based on previous matchup)
|11 a.m.||Arkansas-Monticello vs. Colorado School of Mines||2-0, Mines|
|2:30 p.m.||Millersville vs. Arkansas Tech||7-2, Millersville|
|6:00 p.m.||Flagler vs. Central Missouri||4-2, Flagler|
Saturday, Feb. 1 (note: second and third games subject to change based on previous matchup)
|11 a.m.||Arkansas Tech vs. Colorado School of Mines||6-2, Mines|
|2:30 p.m.||Millersville vs. Central Missouri||10-0, Central Missouri|
|6:00 p.m.||Flagler vs. Arkansas Monticello||6-3, Flagler|
Sunday, Feb. 2 (note: second and third games subject to change based on previous matchup)
|11 a.m.||Arkansas Tech vs. Flagler||10-7, Flagler|
|2:30 p.m.||Colorado School of Mines vs. Central Missouri||5-4, Central Missouri|
|6:00 p.m.||Millersville vs. Arkansas-Monticello||8-3 Millersville|
DII baseball opening night: 3 more to watch
The Houston Winter Invitational isn't the only big matchup on opening night. Here's a few games you won't want to miss.
Mount Olive (RV) at No. 1 Tampa, 5 p.m. ET
The Spartans begin their title defense at home, but against a very formidable opponent. We have Mount Olive in the NCAA.com top 25 and for good reason. Where Tampa loses four of its top players, Mount Olive brings back some good ones, like All-Americans Joe Mason and JT Stone, as well as two All-Conference pitchers. Tampa has some of the best returning prospects in DII baseball, but meshing as a team may take some time. This will be a solid opening test.
No. 8 North Greenville at No. 16 Nova Southeastern, 6:00 p.m. ET
If the Crusaders are the title contenders we think they are, going on the road to win games like these will be a big step. North Greenville was rolling to the Super Regionals in 2019 until running into red-hot Catawba, so you can be sure this team wants to make a strong statement out of the gate. For the Sharks, it's a new era, their long-time skipper Greg Brown now with the Tampa Bay Rays. Nova Southeastern is testing itself early, welcoming the Crusaders and then No. 2 Colorado Mesa and then a Newberry team that is receiving votes in the NCBWA poll. Want to set the tone early? The Sharks will want to walk away victorious in this one.
No. 19 West Florida at Florida Southern (RV), 6 p.m. ET
Florida Southern had a rough second half in 2019, but these Mocs don't play poorly for too long. They are picked to finish third in the stacked Sunshine State Conference, but could be a surprise team this year, especially after the summer Jacob Teeter had in the Cape Cod Baseball League. A win over this tough Argos teams would be a strong statement. West Florida is projected second in the Gulf South and returns quite a few pieces that helped it hag around the top 15 last season. Expect a good one from first pitch.