When looking for contenders for the 2017 DII softball championships, it’s easy to look at the Top 25 teams and pick out some teams to beat.
There are a lot more than 25 teams in the tournament field, however. Here’s a look at some of the under-the-radar teams you should keep an eye on come regional tournament time:
The Panthers have been a bit under the radar this season, not lighting up the national rankings as much as some expected. A few early season losses against teams worthy of national rankings saw them slip out of the rankings themselves.
Perhaps that’s just the way they like it.
Adelphi is coming off a 2016 that ended in Denver in the DII National Championships. They were the only team in the eight-team field to return from the 2015 National Championships. With consecutive East Regional and Super Regional championships, to say they have the experience may be an understatement.
The Panthers eclipsed the 30-win plateau for the third straight season and will head into the Northeast-10 Tournament as the No. 2-ranked team in the East Region.
All but one player returns from the starting lineup in the 2016 championships. Breanna Martini leads the way and has been nothing short of sensational. She leads the team in every statistical category, batting .484 with 13 home runs, 17 doubles and 61 RBI, topping in the Northeast-10 as well. That's why she is a finalist for the NFCA DII National Player of the Year Award.
Senior Lindsay Mapes anchors a pitching staff that brings a nice balance to the Panthers. She is 14-5 with a 2.69 ERA and 98 strikeouts. Combined, the team boasts an impressive 2.61 ERA.
The Panthers balance is certainly a weapon. The championship pedigree they are building makes them a threat. That experience is irreplaceable and makes them a team to keep tabs on throughout the postseason.
The Warriors play in the stacked Central Region. Harding and Minnesota State adorn the Top 10 in DII, while Central Oklahoma and Southern Arkansas make the Top 25. Even 42-win Pittsburg State found themselves receiving votes.
Winona State? No votes. Completely under the radar.
If the Warriors plan on making it through the gauntlet that is the Central Region, they are going to do it behind the arms of their pitching staff. They lead the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in ERA and shutouts, finding themselves in DII’s top two in both categories.
Junior McKenna Larsen, coming off a no-hitter this past weekend, has been relentless in the circle. She is 20-4 with a microscopic 0.83 ERA on the season. Freshman Jordyn Kleman is 18-5 with a 1.67 ERA and a team-best 167 strikeouts. It will take a lot of hitting to beat them down the stretch.
What makes their pitching even stronger is a DII-best defense. The Warriors sport a .984 fielding percentage, making hits and runs that much harder to come by.
While they are not the most home-run happy team in the NSIC, they, like Adelphi, have balance on offense. As a team they are hitting .333 and get on base at a .405 lick. They will score runs, but pitching like they have, they won’t need many.
The Golden Bears weren’t ranked at any point this season. West Chester received much of the attention in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, and rightfully so. The Golden Rams have the best pitching in the conference, to go along with the best offense the PSAC has to offer.
But don’t sleep on Kutztown.
Kutztown matches up very well against the Golden Rams. Last season they bounced their PSAC East rivals from the Atlantic Regionals, defeating them not once, but twice. This season, they split the season series with the Golden Bears who were amongst the Top 25 for much of the season. That split allowed them to do no worse than a share of the PSAC East.
The Golden Bears won’t wow you with offensive stats. They bat .284 as a team with a mere 11 home runs. Savannah Nierintz is the ace of their strength; a solid pitching staff. She sits at 21-5 with a 1.23 ERA and 167 strikeouts. Overall, they post a 1.81 ERA, so runs come at a minimum when facing Kutztown.
Kutztown is a team that has made the natural progressions of a quality program over the past few seasons. They went from a 20-win team in 2014 to a PSAC tourney team in 2015. They jumped again last year, appearing in their first regionals since their run in the championships in 2013. Now, they look to take the next step, which makes them a team to watch in the postseason.
Others of note:
Pittsburg State: The disadvantage for the Gorillas is the region in which they play. Despite a 42-win season, their first 40-win season since 2004, an early exit from the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association tournament leaves them on the edge of their seats come selection day. Should they advance into the regionals (based on the April 26th Central Regional rankings, they should) Emmie Robertson makes them a dangerous team to sleep on. The NFCA National Player of the Year finalist went 29-8 on the season, behind a 0.84 ERA and 303 strikeouts. There won't be many off days for Roberston this May if the Gorillas go far.
UAH: The Chargers opened the season with consecutive victories against nationally-ranked opponents, so the moxie is certainly there. They are also the top seed in the Gulf South Conference tournament, a conference that boasted seven of the ten spots in the April 26th South Regional rankings. Also add the hottest team in the GSC to their resume, heading into their postseason on a six-game win streak. For three years running, senior Kaitlyn Bannister has been one of the most dominating offensive players in the nation. Batting .476 with 18 home runs and 62 RBI in 2017, she will be looking to close her career out on a high note. That could be scary for opposing teams.