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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | May 10, 2017

Regional preview Part I: Atlantic, Central, East, Midwest

  Freshman Autumn Humes has made Harding the No. 1 seed in an intriguing Central Region.

The conference tournaments are complete. The selections have been made.

Thursday kicks off the regional tournaments that will decide who moves on down the road to the Division II Softball Championships in Salem, Virginia.

RELATED: Previewing the South, Southeast, South Central and West Regionals

In part one of our preview, we'll take a look at some teams to watch in the Atlantic, Central, East and Midwest regions.

Regional brackets | Times, matchups and results

ATLANTIC

West Chester is coming off of its first-ever PSAC championship, defeating Bloomsburg twice in three days by a combined score of 15-1. The Golden Rams were the most productive team in the conference, leading in runs scored (295), doubles (93), triples (17), home runs (36) and RBIs (261), while their .316 batting average was second.

While senior outfielder Sarah Walasavage was the veteran leader of the Golden Rams (.389 batting average, 55 runs, four triples, four home runs and 33 stolen bases) keep an eye on PSAC Freshman of the Year Bri Garber. She batted .388 with 38 runs scored this season. 

The Golden Rams also had the best pitching in the PSAC, and that’s in large part due to junior Amanda Houck’s amazing season. She sits at 31-3 with a 1.13 ERA, 14 shutouts and 176 strikeouts. Her wins, ERA and shutouts are among the top 10 in DII.

West Chester can’t take its round one opponent lightly, however. Chowan’s Kayla Robins is one of the best pitchers in DII. She is in the top 10 in ERA (0.90) and strikeouts (352) and places in the top 15 with 24 wins.  

While Kutztown could be a dangerous sleeper, West Virginia Wesleyan may be too strong behind some of the best pitching in DII. Hannah Vet has been sensational in the circle (her 0.93 ERA is sixth in DII) and will make the Bobcats tough to beat.

CENTRAL

This is the toughest division to project because any team can compete top to bottom. This region boasts some of the best pitching DII has to offer with some pretty potent lineups as well.  

RELATED: Harding highlights most dangerous teams to watch down the stretch

Harding won its first-ever Great American Conference title, defeating Southern Arkansas twice in the GAC tourney. Harding has kept the Lady Muleriders, who possess one of the more prolific offenses in DII, in check the last six times it faced them, and that speaks volumes. The Lady Bisons are having a historic season, with a program-best 54 wins and first No. 1 regional seed. Freshman Autumn Humes and senior Hannah Johnson have been an unstoppable one-two combo in the circle.

Jason Anderson led his Lady Muleriders to Denver last season, and the power trio of Brooke Goad, Maddie Dow and Jill Roye could play a major role in a short postseason. Winona State’s three-headed monster of McKenna Larsen, Jordyn Kleman and Jaida Reynen — who combined for a 1.27 team ERA — are going to make the Warriors tough. Coley Reis — who threw back-to-back perfect games — makes No. 2 seed Minnesota State a formidable opponent as well. 

Central Oklahoma is in the top 25. Pittsburg State won 42 games as the sixth seed with one of the best pitchers in DII as its ace. Simply put, there are no sleepers in this bracket, only contenders. Whoever survives the grind of these Regionals and Super Regionals becomes an automatic contender in Salem.

EAST

Adelphi is the team to beat here. The Panthers have won two straight East Regional and Super Regional tournaments, the only team to be represented in the past two DII championships. The Panthers return a lineup with eight players from last season’s run, including Brenna Martini. Martini has established herself as one of the best players in DII, batting .485 with 17 doubles, 15 home runs and 65 RBI.

RELATED: Three teams that could make surprise runs in regionals

Caldwell will present a difficult challenge in this bracket and should not be overlooked. The three-seed is powered by junior catcher Marisa Monasseri. Monasseri is among the 25 finalists for the NFCA Player of the Year Award behind a .507 batting average (second in DII), 11 doubles, 11 home runs and 65 RBI. Paired with Lauren Frye who is hitting .428, they provide an intriguing combo in a potent lineup. The seven-time CACC tourney champs are postseason-tested and will be a team to watch.

MIDWEST

University of Missouri-St. Louis lost one of the best pitchers to graduation that DII has ever seen. Hannah Perryman was a first-team All-American who ended her Triton career tops in DII in strikeouts (1,725), perfect games (nine) and strikeouts per seven innings (12.1).

It understandably took the Tritons a little time early on to find their way. That's all behind them now. UMSL ended the season on fire, sweeping through the GLVC tournament, outscoring their opponents 13-2. Sophomore Carly Kingery is the new ace, going 23-6 with a 1.27 ERA and a GLVC-best 194 strikeouts. The Tritons have a balanced attack with sound pitching on one side and a powerful punch on the other that recorded a GLVC-best 54 home runs.

Southern Indiana is hosting its first regional in program history, and is a highly-respectable 6-2 against the field. The Eagles were bounced early from the GLVC tournament and people may have forgotten about them. Jennifer Leonhardt, ace of the Eagles' solid pitching staff, has been one of the better freshman across DII.

MORE: Queens of the circle: DII's best pitching

Don’t sleep on Wayne State. It may be a four seed, but Lyndsay Butler — the reigning DII Player of the Year — anchors the best pitching staff in DII. Butler had another phenomenal season, going 22-9 with a DII-best 0.59 ERA in the circle while hitting team-best in batting average (.466), home runs (seven) and RBI (36). Great players find a way to shine in the biggest moments. Butler has proven she is the player to do just that.