The bracket is filled and the Road to Cary is set to begin. Welcome to the 2023 DII baseball championship.
Regional play begins May 18 around the nation and the winners advance to the best-of-three super regionals to see which eight teams move on to DII baseball’s ultimate party: the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina.
FOLLOW LIVE: Tournament scores and updates on the Road to Cary
Last week, I gave you the first predictions for my “8 for Cary.” This week, I’ll take a look at each region, give my thoughts on the team to beat and a sleeper to watch, make a super regional projection, and if you read to the bottom, you’ll get to see if anything changed from last week’s final eight prediction. Spoiler alert: I don't think there will be too many upsets this year. Some years, we see that the better teams are simply better, but there may be a surprise or two along the way.
Without further ado, let’s play ball!
Team to beat: Seton Hill. First of all, the Atlantic, per usual is pretty stacked. I’ve said all season that I think Millersville is one of the most balanced teams in all DII baseball, and that still holds true. But right now, the Griffins have found another gear and that’s dangerous come May. They have won six in a row and that includes a 12-1 victory in the PSAC championship against first-round opponent Shippensburg. This team is also balanced, with Vincenzo Rauso (.406 batting average) and Jack Oberdorf (13 home runs) leading the way on offense, and John McCullough, Brandon Bergert and Aidan Layton providing a formidable rotation.
Team to watch: Charleston (WV). It’s a lonely place to be a Golden Eagle. After winning its second-straight MEC championship, Charleston is the only non-PSAC team in the Atlantic. That’s not why I think they have sleeper appeal; I have been high on this team since 2022 when I named them a preseason sleeper and they have yet to disappoint. Kyle West is an absolute beast at the plate, hitting .402 with 22 home runs, but Tyler Dellerman also brings the lumber, hitting .366 with 17 home runs. On the bump, they rely on a more piece-meal approach with only one starter making more than 10 starts, so bullpen depth will be key in a playoff format.
Super Regional prediction: Millersville vs. Seton Hill
Team to beat: Central Missouri. Of course it is. It always is. The top three in this part of the bracket — the Mules, Missouri Southern, and Southern Arkansas — are all three of the best teams in the country, so the competition will be stiff. But the Mules need to beware: Their first-round opponent, St. Cloud State, was one of my sleepers for 2023 way back in January. Plus, historically speaking, UCM has struggled with the Huskies. Still the Mules tested themselves down the stretch, playing a very difficult schedule, but head into the tournament winners of eight in a row, including a 15-0 victory over Missouri Southern to win their fifth-straight MIAA title.
Team to watch: Minnesota State. Ouachita Baptist is certainly one to watch. They have had a very good season against a pretty tough schedule. St. Cloud State started the season rough, but are really coming alive down the stretch, but as the eight seed, the Huskies have the toughest road to the finals. However, the Mavericks have been pretty solid all season long and did make it to the NSIC championship series before falling to the Huskies. All eyes will be on Missouri Southern and Southern Arkansas in this part of the bracket, that’s why you need to keep your eyes on a team that could sneak up on both.
Super Regional prediction: Central Missouri vs. Southern Arkansas
Team to beat: Southern New Hampshire. The Penmen are always the threat for Cary in the East, having been there three times in the past four tournaments. Nothing changes this season. This team has hitting, led by Nick Schwartz’s .412 average and 12 home runs, and a solid starting trio in Jeffrey Prami, Josh Roberge, and Brandon White. The surprising loss in the first round of the NE10 tournament may only fuel the fire for a third-straight trip to the finals.
Team to watch: Queens (NY) Honestly, the correct answer is anyone. Pace enters the tournament winners of their first-ever NE10 title, making the Setters a fun story. Le Moyne and Goldey-Beacom enter the tournament having lost two in a row and surprisingly bumped from their respective conference tourneys. So, let’s go crazy and pick Queens to make some noise. The Knights forced their way into Game 2 of the ECC championship series against tournament staple Molloy in walk-off fashion, and then won the conference for the program’s second trip ever to the NCAA field. As with many teams in the Northeast, pitching will be a question mark, but crazier things have happened in the East.
Super Regional prediction: Southern New Hampshire vs. Le Moyne
Team to beat: Quincy. The Hawks, in my opinion, have been the team to beat in the Midwest since Day 1. No team threw themselves into the fire like the Hawks, playing one of the toughest schedules in recent history and finishing 44-9 to show for it. They are winners of 14 in a row, and let’s not forget about all those home runs. Five players have at least 11 homers for a team that has hit 118 in total (Luke Napelton may have hit one as I was typing). This is a lineup where one single at-bat can turn the tide of a game and crush opponents’ postseason dreams.
Team to watch: Wayne State (MI). I think that Quincy and Illinois Springfield are on another level and are headed toward a 2022 super regional rematch. But there is a lot of intrigue here. Maryville has been a pleasant surprise from start to finish, and Northwood — who has been on the radar since being named a sleeper entering last season — is deep in experience and coming in hot. But Wayne State won the GLIAC and have simply won all season long. Sure, the Warriors haven’t played the toughest schedule, but they also did what they had to do against it: win. Karter Fitzpatrick, Ryan Korolden, Griffin Kilander, and Seth Marano all have sub-3.00 ERAs and give the Warriors a lot of options in the starting rotation. That pitching is a huge advantage in a part of the bracket where there isn't a lot of pitching depth — and that can turn this region on its head. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Warriors in Cary at all.
Super Regional prediction: Quincy vs. Illinois Springfield
Team to beat: Tampa. Here’s another no-brainer. The Spartans are the winningest team of the 2000s and seem like an annual attendee to the finals (I know, I know, Rollins' fans). The Spartans roll into the tournament winners of six in a row, including a season-ending three game sweep on the road against Power-10 Newberry, and the games weren’t particularly close. As always, there is very little weakness in the lineup or pitching staff. Can Tampa be beat? Of course, Rollins showed us that last year, but it will always be a tough task.
Team to watch: West Florida. If you are in the Argos part of the bracket, you better be watching out for them. Okay, so they are the No. 2 seed and not a very exciting sleeper, but the Argos have won 21 of their last 22 games, and many of those have come against ranked competition they’ll need to beat here. They have taken care of Montevallo and Valdosta State over that span and took two of three from first-round opponent Florida Southern earlier this season a week before taking a two-game series from defending South champs, Rollins. Anything can happen in what has become one of the deepest regions in DII, but this team is on fire and seems destined to advance.
Super Regional prediction: Tampa vs. West Florida
South Central Region
Team to beat: Angelo State. Let it be known I am 100 percent torn on this… as always. On one side is Colorado Mesa, winners of 17 in a row and arguably the hottest team in DII baseball right now. I think they come out of their part of the bracket, but then there is Angelo State. Should it be a Rams/Mavericks showdown, the Rams being home certainly helps. What also stands out is this: The Rams are 7-0 against teams in the bracket... in the past month, so recency will help a bit. I also think the Rams have a slight advantage on the mound, especially with Kade Bragg, but it is certainly fair to question if anyone can slow down the Mavericks offense right now.
Team to watch: Lubbock Christian. UT Tyler and MSU Denver are strong teams, but Lubbock Christian needed to make it to the Lone Star Championship game to hold onto its spot in the bracket, and the Chaps did just that. We’ve seen that they can hang with their first-round opponent St Edward’s and after that, it’s anything goes. Eduardo Acosta (.439, nine home runs, 68 RBIs) and Carson Ogilvie (.418, eight home runs, 47 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases) have been so good in the lineup all season but it’s a question of if the pitching can show up.
Super Regional prediction: Angelo State vs. Colorado Mesa
Team to beat: North Greenville. The defending champs entered the season at No. 1, and despite an absolute stunning exit to the Conference Carolinas tournament, the Crusaders finished the season at No. 1, at least in a few rankings. This team still finished 44-8 and have more wins against winning opponents than pretty much everyone (they are tied with West Florida for the most, so no one has more). Most importantly, this team has the experience from last year’s run to know that what’s in the past stays there and all that matters is the next game. Oh yeah, they happen to be hosting at home, where the Crusaders are 26-0 this season.
Team to watch: Georgia Southwestern. Let’s start by saying that Mount Olive is a really good team, and was able to handle North Greenville earlier this season. Newberry has been on fire all year and is a really good story winning its first SAC title this century, but that last series against Tampa stings. But how about the Hurricanes? A mere .500 team last year, they won both the PBC regular season and tournament, earning their first spot ever in the NCAA tourney. Ace Nick McCollum is a bulldog and will go deep into ballgames. Would it be surprising to see Georgia Southwestern come out of arguably the toughest region in recent history. Sure, but it’s May… when anything happens.
Super Regional prediction: North Greenville vs. Belmont Abbey
Team to beat: Cal State Monterey Bay. The Otters won the CCAA, and wow, what a win it was. Cal State San Bernardino and the Otters were the teams to beat in the CCAA, and arguably the West, all season long. Despite falling behind by eight runs, the Otters prevailed 13-9 to win the conference title. The bottom line is CSUMB played a top-10 toughest schedule in the division and through it all, finished as the No. 1 seed. Nico Hartojo is hitting .409 with 10 home runs to lead a balanced lineup, the rotation is three deep with guys that can win, and Chris Tonna has been solid in relief.
Team to watch: Azusa Pacific. This spot came down to Point Loma or the Cougars, and with the Cougars defeating the Sea Lions twice to win the first-ever PacWest tournament, well, that says it all. The Cougars don’t have many leaders in DII baseball statistical categories, but at 34-17, they have proven they know how to win. Sometimes, especially this time of year, that’s all you need, even more so in the Wild West.
Super regional prediction: Cal State Monterey Bay vs. Azusa Pacific
8 for Cary
- Atlantic: Seton Hill
- Central: Central Missouri
- East: Southern New Hampshire
- Midwest: Quincy
- South: Tampa
- South Central: Angelo State
- Southeast: North Greenville
- West: Cal State Monterey Bay