It is the final stretch of the 2022 DII baseball regular season. Quite a few teams got out to surprisingly hot starts back in February and while some have cooled down… others have yet to find the brake pedal.
Here are five teams that have been pleasant surprises and need to be on your radar as legitimate contenders for Cary and the 2022 DII baseball championship.
RANKINGS: Tampa tops the latest DII baseball Power 10 rankings
(Note: All games through Sunday, April 3)
Heading into the second week of April, the Sea Lions sit at 27-3 and in first place in the PacWest. Not too shabby for a team that finished 11-21 last season. Now, to be fair, the PacWest was wacky last year and played in bubbles due to COVID, but a 16-win improvement with a month left in the season is impressive anyway you dice it.
So, how have the Sea Lions gotten here? Point Loma is middle of the pack in scoring, but defensively, this team is one of the best in the nation. It starts with the pitching staff, one that leads DII in ERA at 2.17 and WHIP at 0.98. Baxter Halligan has been absolutely dominating, currently 7-1 with 0.94 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 65 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched. But the entire staff has been strong, and having the third-best fielding team in DII helps. When pitchers can trust the infield behind them, they can unload and attack the zone more comfortably. We’re seeing those results on the mound and in the win column.
HISTORY: DII baseball head coaches with 1,000 wins
Any team that can improve as greatly as the Tars have in the loaded Sunshine State Conference is certainly a pleasant surprise. Rollins was a 9-11 team last season. Entering the second week of April, the Tars are 23-9 and in the national rankings for the first time in three years.
Like Point Loma, offensively, Rollins is middle of the pack. Pitching has carried the Tars thus far, but that doesn’t mean opponents can sleep on the lineup. Rollins is second in the SSC in pitching, with its staff combining for a 2.65 ERA, the third-best mark in DII. Jaylyn Whitehead has been remarkable sitting at 6-1 with a 0.93 ERA and 0.79 WHIP. Austin Long has been dangerous in the bullpen, posting four saves to go along with a 1.13 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. Rollins closes the season against Tampa, a series in which two of the best pitching staffs in DII will go head-to-head in what could very well be a playoff atmosphere.
The Panthers were 14-26 last season and have wasted little time in getting back to their winning ways. Drury entered the week sitting at 21-7 and, despite sitting right behind Lindenwood in the standings, have the most overall wins of any GLVC team.
If the pitching duels of the first two teams on our list aren’t your thing, Drury is right up your alley. This team has been one of the best offenses in DII in 2022: The Panthers rank fifth in the division in batting average (.347), first in doubles per game (2.96), and second in scoring (10.5 runs per game). Aaron Mann has been excellent at getting the barrel on the ball, hitting .451 and striking out just 21 times in 102 at bats (a roughly 16% strikeout rate, which is just fine in today’s era of baseball). Stephen Randazzo has really brought the lumber, leading the team in doubles with 14 and home runs with eight. The pitching staff does allow runs, but this lineup seems to score more than the other team quite often. That right there is the secret to winning baseball games.
Now to be fair, this isn’t a huge surprise, being that the Bears were a 23-win team last year. But this year, Lenoir-Rhyne has shown flashes of utter dominance and already has 31 wins in one of the toughest regions in the country.
It seems to be the natural progression since head coach Chris Ramirez took over for the 2020 season. The Bears went from four games under .500 to four games over .500 when play stopped in 2020 and then 23-18 last year to 31-7 after one week of April. This version of the Bears has a very nice balance, hitting .318 at the plate and pitching to a 3.19 ERA on the mound. Wade Cuda and Drew Yniesta have been hot hitters all season and really fun to watch at the plate with a pair of explosive bats.
The Panthers finished 19-15 last year and never really got going in 2020, finishing 4-5 before the season ended earlier than expected. The 2022 squad is looking much more like the team that had a huge 2019, already out to a 16-5 start with a huge series win against national power Southern New Hampshire.
Adelphi has a three-head monster in the lineup, as Kyle Olson, Matt Alifano and Michael Draskin are all hitting better than .420 with an OPS north of 1.200. The trio are Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, in the NE10 in batting, and the Panthers are third in DII baseball, hitting .354 as a team. They also have a wealth of pitchers capable of starting and relieving, which is huge for the style of pitching in today’s game.