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Wayne Cavadi | | May 12, 2019

Let's take a region-by-region look at the DII softball tournament

DII Softball: 2019 Selection Show

The 2019 NCAA DII softball tournament bracket is set. Sixty-four teams look to make their way to Denver, Colorado for the DII softball championship. Let's take a look at the top seed and one sleeper from each region.

BRACKETS: Print your regional brackets 

Atlantic Region
No. 1 seed: West Liberty | Sleeper: West Chester

The Hilltoppers are MEC champions for the first time ever and are rolling into the NCAA DII tournament on a six-game win streak, including four impressive wins in a row in the MEC tournament. They defeated West Virginia State, who seemed to have a stranglehold on the No. 1 seed in the region, in the semifinals. Katie Beeman slugged a two-run home run in the top of the seventh — her second on the day — to give West Liberty the thrilling victory. She and Kat Donzella (16 home runs) pack a potent punch in this lineup.

We really like PSAC champion Lock Haven as a sleeper here, but the first-round draw of No. 1 West Liberty hurts a little. Still, the Bald Eagles lost just once in their last 11 games. But we’re going with a West Chester team that made it to Salem last year with some of its best hitters — like Emily Maseth, Bri Garber, and Heidi McCollester — all back for more.

Central Region
No. 1 seed: Central Oklahoma | Sleeper: Southern Arkansas

The Bronchos have done it all year long and really showed they are postseason-ready in the MIAA tournament, defeating their four opponents by a combined score of 37-8. While JoBi Heath (.412, 14 home runs, 71 RBI), Bailey Thompson (.410), Hazel Puempel (.407), and Lexy Dobson (.404) give Central Oklahoma a quartet of .400 hitters, freshman Bailey McKittrick is the breakout star. She’s 24-2 with a 1.81 ERA in the circle. 

The Central Region is the only part of the bracket with a 50-game winner, and it has two of them in No. 3 Augustana (SD) and No. 2 Winona State. Obviously both are a threat, but we like Southern Arkansas. Head coach Jason Anderson always has a crop of sluggers, and this year is no different with five hitters blasting double-digit home runs. 

East Region
No. 1 seed: St. Anselm | Sleeper: Wilmington (DE)

Guess who’s back? The Hawks have had an up and down season, reaching the No. 1 seed in the NFCA polls for the first time in program history before falling out of the top 25 altogether. But St. Anselm — the reigning national runners-up — are rolling now, winners of 12 in a row, including a tenth-inning, walk-off win against Adelphi to close the season. Pitcher Morgan Perry is rolling, winner of her last 15 starts while not allowing two runs or less in 14 of them.

The Wildcats had to win three straight games on May 4 to stave off elimination and advance to the NCAA tournament. They did just that, including two in a row against top-seeded Georgian Court to capture the CACC title. Rosa'Lynn Burton has been one of DII softball's more exciting hitters, and this year is no different, as she's fourth in DII with a .526 batting average. This could be her chance to shine on the big stage.

Midwest Region
No. 1 seed: Grand Valley State| Sleeper: Southern Indiana

What can you say about the Lakers? They have been dominant all year, winners of 44 games and now 10 in a row. They have offense with Nikoma Holmen, Lydia Goble, and Taylor Rieger bringing serious pop to the lineup, and they have pitching, winning 26 of Allison Lipovsky’s appearances in the circle. She’s posted a 0.81 ERA and struck out 271 in just 189 innings, making the Lakers a tough out in the postseason. 

Can the reigning national champions really be a sleeper? Well, Southern Indiana certainly was last year, reaching Salem as the bottom seed and going on an undefeated run to the title. Unlike last year, however, when the Screaming Eagles had momentum heading into the NCAA tournament, they dropped their last two of the season, but Jennifer Leonhardt showed there are very few pitchers who can step up as she does in the postseason. Watch out for both UMSL and Indianapolis, but you just have to keep Southern Indiana on the radar. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH: 7 DII freshman hitters ready for the postseason

South Central Region
No. 1 seed: Texas A&M-Kingsville| Sleeper: Oklahoma Christian

Angelo State did not make the NCAA DII tournament, so the South Central will be the only region guaranteed of a new representative in the final eight. The Javelinas took down their first Lone Star Conference title since 2002, and did it in impressive fashion, beating two nationally-ranked teams in No. 19 Tarleton State and then No. 7 Texas A&M-Commerce. Anastasia Leibas (.403, 11 home runs, 52 RBI) leads the offense, but Breanna Smith and Saidi Castillo give the Javelinas a legitimate two-headed monster in the circle, making it really tough for opposing lineups. 

Why not go true sleeper here and take a look at the Oklahoma Christian Eagles? Winners of their first Heartland conference title in program history, the Eagles lost quite a bit in April before righting the ship at the perfect time. You won’t find much over-the-fence pop in this lineup, but they can hit (.313 team average) and run (100 stolen bases in 108 attempts), which could cause some trouble if opposing pitchers allow runners on base. 

South Region
No. 1 seed: West Florida| Sleeper: Saint Leo

The Argos are the top seed in a region stacked with five nationally ranked teams. They have just eight losses on the season, three of which came in a row in late April which seemed to allow the Argos to refocus as they romped through the GSC tournament, outscoring their opponents 28-2. While freshman sensation Teala Howard leads the offense, this team is three-deep in the circle with Kelsey Sweatt, Grace Gilbert, and Tori Perkins all posting double-digit wins. 

Mississippi College is the No. 7 seed and was ranked No. 25 in the last NFCA poll to give you an idea just how deep this region is. It's tough to say anyone is a "sleeper" with all the talent lurking in this bracket. Saint Leo is an intriguing pick. The Lions have wins over several teams in this region, including the Choctaws, while taking the season series against No. 2-seeded Florida Tech. There's plenty of experience back from last year's semifinals team that could make a surprising run, but the Lions, like so many others, will have to figure out West Florida.

Southeast Region
No. 1 seed: North Georgia| Sleeper: Lees-McRae

The Nighthawks reached Salem last year as the No. 1 seed and have become a tournament staple. They have reached the Super Regionals in nine of the past ten seasons, including five trips to the DII softball championship, capturing the title in 2015. Mike Davenport has built a powerhouse and as long as Kylee Smith (27-2, 0.70 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, and 281 strikeouts) is in the circle, this team is dangerous. 

This region is North Georgia's for the taking based on history, but Lees-McRae may be the ultimate Cinderella story of the tournament. No one has fewer wins entering the tournament than the Bobcats' 21, and they were just .500 entering the SAC tournament. Kara Cunningham is a special player to watch, leading the team in pitching (14-8, two saves, 1.84 ERA, and 165 strikeouts) and hitting, slashing a robust .405/.439/.595.

West Region 
No. 1 seed: Concordia (CA)| Sleeper: San Francisco State

The Eagles won the PacWest and did so in dominating fashion, winning their last 15 games in a row and finishing 30-3 overall in conference play. Sophomore Callie Nunes put her stamp of DII softball, becoming one of the best in the division going 31-4 with a 1.10 ERA and 241 strikeouts on the season.

Sure, the Gators fell in the CCAA tournament, but not before showing they can hang with the best of them by bumping off top-ranked UC San Diego. This team has gone from seven games under .500 to 20 games over in a single season, and that loss in the conference semifinals may fuel the fire for a Cinderella run. 

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