The first weekend of the DII baseball championship in Cary, N.C. is in the books. DII baseball heavyweights Tampa and Central Missouri both won to set up a clash between two of the most successful teams of the 2000s.
Before each team plays its second game, let's take a quick look back at the weekend that was while looking ahead at the big matchups this week.
The DII baseball championship, so far
1. The unsung heroes are stealing the show
Saturday's first two games saw a pair of unlikely sluggers power their respective teams to victory. Tampa's Drew Ehrhard has always been a contact hitter and hit .370 this season. But the Spartans' second baseman had no home runs this season. That changed Saturday when Ehrhard's three-run homer tied the game at six in the seventh. His double in the tenth set up the game-winning run.
Central Missouri has a lineup loaded with pop. The Mules have five hitters hitting north of .350 with four players raking more than seven home runs. Cole Taylor wasn't one of them but brought the lumber on Saturday. Taylor had two hits — a double and a home run — and drove in four of the Mules nine runs. In fact, the bottom third of Central Missouri's lineup went a combined 7-for-10 with seven RBIs.
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2. A clash of the DII baseball titans is set for the winners bracket
From 2000 to present, no one has more wins than Central Missouri's 983. The defending champion Tampa Spartans are not far behind with 911, but no one comes close to their five national championships over the same span. The Spartans also have one runner-up appearance this millennium, back in 2003 when they lost to... Central Missouri.
No matter how you look at this game — whether it's through a historical or current lens — it could be one of the best in the entire tournament. The Mules are the unquestioned No. 1 team in Cary, hitting .348 with a 1.023 OPS, 82 home runs and 463 runs scored while Tampa has been slaying nationally ranked teams since May 27, a streak of five in a row. There's a reason these are the only two teams back from 2019.
3. There's a battle of Nazarenes
It would be surprising if there was another point in DII baseball championship history that there was a Nazarene vs. Nazarene showdown. Three teams in the field are making their Cary debuts, and two of them are battling for survival on Monday.
First-year head coach Chase Sain led Trevecca Nazarene into extras against the reigning champs on Saturday, and the experience on this team could be a huge advantage. Well, that and Ethan Harrison and Braden Odom, who are playing out of their collective minds since the postseason began — Odom with a cycle to go with nine extra base hits and 13 RBIs and Harrison with nine runs scored and 13 RBIs of his own. Northwest Nazarene will have to regroup quickly, after being blanked until the sixth inning against Central Missouri. While this is a year of historic firsts for both teams, neither wants to add another first to their resume: the first to be see their flag fall at Cary.
4. The Rams are firing on all cylinders
What's baseball in Cary without a long rain delay? Well, Angelo State and Wingate experienced the first cumbersome showers of the tournament, but it didn't rain on the Rams parade, winning 6-2 in their opener. Angelo State was in control the whole way, and it would have been interesting to see what Trent Baker would have done without the delay. The Rams ace went 4.2 innings with six strikeouts to just one walk and both runs allowed were unearned. Wingate had the right idea pitching around Josh Elvir — the superstar slugger was given the Barry Bonds treatment and walked three times — but Jackson Hardy set up the offense with three hits from the leadoff spot. Wingate is a very good team, but Angelo State showed why it is so tough to beat.
5. Two-out magic kept Seton Hill in the winners bracket
Timely hits were the story in Seton Hill's 4-3 victory over Southern New Hampshire. Just how timely? Each of the four runs scored came with two outs, including the game-winner in the bottom of the eighth. The Penmen starter Wesley Tobin came out on fire, striking out the first four hitters he faced and left the game striking out eight in four innings without issuing a walk. But Seton Hill's hitters patiently waited and fired off run after run with two outs on the scoreboard. Catcher Vincenzo Rauso remains red hot for the Griffins, but it was yet another unsung hero in Cary who delivered a big blow. Canice Ejoh drove in two of Seton Hill's four runs — just his tenth and eleventh RBIs of the season.
6. Will Angelo State and Seton Hill be a pitcher's duel?
The Rams and the Griffins are two of the hotter offenses in DII, but Tuesday's winners-bracket matchup will be intriguing. Seton Hill headed into Cary with the best ERA in DII this season, sitting at 3.01, while Angelo State is not far behind at 3.14, third-best in DII. It's been the same in the tournament as Seton Hill has posted a 1.67 ERA, best among the entire field, while Angelo State is pitching to a 2.33 ERA, good for third best in the tournament. So, which pitching staff will prevail, since both aces have already thrown? Well, both teams will have their hands full: Seton Hill is hitting .353 in the tournament while Angelo State is scoring 11 runs per game this postseason.
7. There are other stars in Cary, too
Here's a quick look at some top performers from opening weekend.
- Carson Childers, RP, Angelo State: 3.1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
- Gehrig Christopher, DH, Wingate: 2-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB
- Canice Ejoh, RF, Seton Hill: 2-for-3, 2 RBI
- Drew Ehrhard, 2B/3B, Tampa: 3-for-5, 3 RBI, 2 R
- Micah Evans, CF, Central Missouri: 2-for-2, 1 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB
- Luke Glancy, DH, Tampa: 2-for-5, 2 RBI, 1 R
- Bryant Goolsby, DH, Trevecca Nazarene: 3-for-5
- Shawn Grandmont, 3B, Northwest Nazarene: 2-for-4, 2 R
- Mason Green, SP, Central Missouri: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K
- Jackson Hardy, CF, Angelo State: 3-for-4, 3 R
- Ethan Harrison, 2B, Trevecca Nazarene: 2-for-5, 3 RBI, 2 R
- Michael LaRocca, 1B, SNHU: 2-for-4, 1 RBI
- Jordan Leasure, RP, Tampa: 3.1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K
- Logan McNeely, C, Wingate: 2-for-3, 1 R
- Jack Oberdorf, 3B, Seton Hill: 2-for-3, 1 R, 1 RBI
- Dan Sullivan, 1B/3B, Tampa: 1-for-4, 2 RBI, 1 R
- Cole Taylor, 1B, Central Missouri: 2-for-4, 4 RBI, 2 R
- Shawn Wallwork, 1B, Trevecca Nazarene: 2-for-4, 2 R, 1 BB
- Erik Webb, RF, Central Missouri: 2-for-4, 1 RBI, 1 R
- Jordan Williams, 3B, Angelo State: 1-for-4, 2 RBI, 1 R
- Scott Wolverton, C, Central Missouri: 3-for-4, 2 RBI