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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | May 18, 2022

Picking 8 for Cary: A region-by-region look at the DII baseball championship

DII baseball: 2022 selection show

The journey on the road to Cary, North Carolina is almost complete, and the off ramp is in sight. We are just a few weeks from eight days of baseball mayhem at the USA Baseball National Training Complex for the 2022 DII baseball championship.

Before we get there, we have a few regional tournaments to get through.

TOURNEY TRACKER: Live updates and scores from the DII baseball championship

Predicting this year's bracket is a near impossibility. The depth from the top of each region to the bottom is unlike any year in recent memory. The No. 1 seeds can dominate all the way to the DII baseball championship finals just as easily as they can be eliminated in two straight games. 

So, instead of attempting the foolish undertaking of predicting the outcome of each round, let's simply take a look at a team to beat, a sleeper and then the teams I think will be playing June 4-11 in Cary for the title.

RANKINGS: Take a peek at the latest DII baseball Power 10 rankings 

Atlantic

Team to beat: Millersville β€”There is some serious clout in this bracket. West Chester is looking like the team that won the title twice in six years not long ago. If it turns out that there is a West Chester/Millersville showdown to decide this region, we're all in for a treat. But, if you remember way back to January, I had the Marauders in the preseason Power 10 rankings at No. 8. Millersville has a nice blend of contact and power hitters with a bevy of arms at its disposal. Now, the Golden Rams did sweep Millersville just about a month ago, so perhaps that revenge is on the Marauders minds. A nine-game winning streak and the PSAC championship certainly helps the momentum.

Team to watch: Slippery Rock β€” Now, to be fair, in those same preseason Power 10 rankings, I had Charleston (WV) as one of the "Five teams that will fly under the radar," so the Golden Eagles are very much in the conversation as a sleeper. But The Rock? It is their first appearance in 15 years, and they improved their win total by 10 games this season. Ricky Mineo is the kind of pitcher you want leading your rotation in the playoffs and the lineup was among the PSAC leaders in quite a few offensive categories. This is the kind of team that can make a run in the postseason.

Central

Team to beat: Central Missouri β€” Yours truly doubted head coach Kyle Crookes. After two back-to-back deep runs in Cary, I felt with the firepower the Mules lost in both the lineup and atop the rotation that it was an insurmountable mountain to climb. Instead, the Mules are once again one of the best teams in the land. They have four losses since April 1 β€” and the last three have been by a total of four runs. The Mules are in every ball game they play and that kind of confidence this time of year is invaluable.

Team to watch: Minnesota State β€” There are a lot of fun teams to watch in this region. Northeastern State will try to homer its way to Cary, as Brock Reller and his 27 bombs leads a cast of six RiverHawks with at least 10 home runs. Not only was this offense historic at the plate (with 100 home runs, 100 stolen bases, and 100 doubles), but they are making their first NCAA postseason appearance. So is Washburn, yet another great story. But Minnesota State may be the scariest four seed in the entire tournament. The Mavericks have plenty of hitting, but the pitching is outstanding. If you follow my Power 10 rankings, you know how high I have been on Augustana (SD) all season. Well, Minnesota State just took two in a row for the NSIC title from those same Vikings. This team is good.

East

Team to beat: Southern New Hampshire β€” The Penmen entered the season highly ranked and are now the No. 1 seed in the region. That didn't happen on accident. They avenged an early season series loss to Adelphi when it mattered in the NE10 tournament. SNHU has won 23 of its last 25 games and both losses were by a mere run (and both games were 4-3 if that makes for some sort of harbinger). As always, the Penmen have great balance and can beat you in many ways, and have plenty of experience on the road to Cary.

Team to watch: Adelphi β€” Honestly, the correct answer is everyone else as the East is historically a wild card. But these Panthers are very good and did show they can hang with the Penmen. Earlier this April, I pegged Adelphi as one of the five pleasantly surprising teams of 2022 and the Panthers have the talent to make that storyline go all the way to Cary.

Midwest

Team to beat: Illinois Springfield β€” There are two sides to the Prairie Stars story. This offense is one of the best in the land. Everyone β€” I repeat everyone β€” in the regular lineup is hitting .310 or better. Zion Pettigrew is one of the elite bats in the entire nation, hitting .421 with a 1.409 OPS and 23 home runs. However, heading into the GLVC tournament, they had played eight games above teams with a plus-.500 record, and went 4-4 against those teams, which is pretty much what led to them not being the top seed. Illinois Springfield trounced the competition in the GLVC tournament and that could be the momentum it needs in a very balanced region.

Team to watch: Quincy β€” Wayne State (MI) is a ridiculously good baseball team and is certainly a team to watch and a real contender to take the whole bracket. Davenport had the makings of one of the best teams in the nation entering the season, but a slow first month of the season had the Panthers fall off the radar until they closed it out on a tear. This region is deep with intrigue. Going back to those preseason rankings, I had Ashland in the first five out and both Quincy and Northwood were two of my five sleepers. I think this region is wide open and the Hawks were riding a little momentum into the GLVC championship game, so let's see if they can keep it going.

South

Team to beat: Tampa β€” Is there a reason to write any explanation? Tampa has the second-most DII baseball national championships ever and have three since 2013. Last year, the Spartans took Central Missouri to the limit in the national semifinals and almost repeated for the third time in program history. And a bulk of those players are all back, not to mention Tampa has one of the best pitching staffs in DII. Does that mean the Spartans are invincible? Of course not, that's why we love the tournament. But the South is Tampa's until someone takes it from them.

Team to watch: Lee β€” I do like the Fighting Okra β€” er, Statesmen β€”  here. Delta State was also one of my sleepers in the preseason. I got to watch a weekend series earlier this season and there was a lot to like in the lineup, but the pitching will be a question mark against these lineups. I watched Lee on opening day this season and what I liked about this team is how loose they are. That was a huge driver in the turnaround at the end of the season, which led to the GSC championship. The Flames could be the scariest seven seed out there. 

Southeast

Team to beat: Wingate β€” This is a tricky one. North Greenville has been No. 1 for the past two DII baseball Power 10 rankings and (spoiler alert) I do think this is the year the Crusaders break through and reach Cary. But that being said, Wingate is the reigning national champion, and defended its crown as such, going 46-8 and earning the No. 2 seed in the region. The Bulldogs did the unthinkable last year and staved off elimination game after elimination game to win the title. They deserve to be the team everyone is chasing here. This may be the best region in entire tournament, and no matter who your pick is to win it, there is no team with a larger bullseye on their back than the Dawgs.

Team to watch: Lenoir-Rhyne β€” Columbus State is really good, and if the Cougars come out of this bracket, it wouldn't be a surprise at all. But guess the team that beat Wingate for the SAC title? That makes the Bears an automatic contender. It's been more than two decades since Lenoir-Rhyne made the NCAA postseason, and the Bears left little doubt they'd get here, reeling off 44 wins and taking two of three from Wingate for the conference title. The bats are fun, the pitching is solid... this team could be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in several regions. 

South Central

Team to beat: Colorado Mesa β€” Let me preface this by saying since I've started covering DII baseball in 2016, whichever team I pick β€” Angelo State or Colorado Mesa β€” it seems that the other team is the one to win it. So, that should make Rams fans excited. The bottom line is this: Whichever team's pitching shows up in this region is going to Cary. The firepower here is absurd among all the teams and there should be some good 20-18 baseball games going on. So, if that's the case, I'm taking the team with Haydn McGeary, Spencer Bramwell and Caleb Farmer who combined for 77 home runs themselves. Only 19 teams β€” teams β€” hit more home runs than that trio in all DII. 

Team to watch: MSU Denver β€” Now, let's preface this by saying if you sleep on West Texas A&M, you're going to get burned. The Buffs are very good and have plenty of talent to reach Cary. But the Roadrunners have been on a mission since May 24, 2021. That was the day after they missed out on the 2021 DII baseball tournament and they made sure they left no doubt this year, taking down Colorado Mesa to win the RMAC tournament. Interesting note: MSU Denver has never played its opening-round opponent (Texas A&M-Kingsville) and should it win, the Roadrunners have never faced its next round opponent, Angelo State.

West

Team to beat: Point Loma β€” This team is the feel-good story of 2022. From 11 wins last year to 43 and the PacWest crown this year, the Sea Lions have what it takes to not just reach Cary but win it all. If you remember back to 2018, Augustana (SD) won it all with a team very similar to this one. There wasn't a lot of flashy home run hitters, but instead smart baseball players. Move the runners, score runs and let one of the best pitching staffs and defenses in the country, at any level, take care of the rest. 

Team to watch: Azusa Pacific β€” Kirk Nieuwenhuis had a lot of star power to replace in his first season as skipper, but still, the Cougars entered the season highly ranked. This team opened the season against one of the most ridiculous schedules in DII, facing the reigning West Region champs Northwest Nazarene, Colorado Mesa, Cal State Monterey Bay and Point Loma. Starting 6-10 had the Cougars lose some luster, but here they are, No. 2 seeds and in the position to make some noise. 

8 for Cary

I sat here with NCAA.com's own Michella Chester on Jan. 27 and made my way-too-early predictions for Cary. Here we are, more than three and a half months later, and my picks haven't changed much. That day I chose Millersville, Augustana (SD), Southern New Hampshire, Illinois Springfield, North Greenville, Colorado Mesa, Tampa and Azusa Pacific.

Entering the tournament, my eight for Cary are rather similar: Millersville, Central Missouri, Southern New Hampshire, Illinois Springfield, North Greenville, Colorado Mesa, Tampa and Point Loma.

There you have it. Grab some popcorn and we'll see you on the road to Cary.

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