We are roughly two full months into the DII softball season, which means the tournament is quickly nearing. The past few NFCA top 25 polls have had a few teams that have some unfamiliar faces. Some are traditional tournament teams coming off a down year (or two), while others are amid historic seasons making top-25 debuts. All of them are making a strong case to be a high seed in the DII softball championship bracket. Here's a look at eight of those teams.
(Note: All rankings, records, and stats through April 12 unless noted)
Saint Leo (currently ranked No. 13)
While the Lions had a very nice 28-18 record last season, it simply wasn't enough to get into the DII softball tournament in a South Region where four conference rivals made up half the bracket. This year, at 34-6, the Lions are in control of their destiny, especially closing the regular season with back-to-back series against Tampa and Rollins. Kayla Betts has been solid in the circle with a 0.58 ERA, 0.49 WHIP and 207 Ks in 133.2 innings pitched, while the team is hitting .320 overall. Interestingly enough, this squad has just two home runs on the season, and they both came from Briana Neal.
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West Texas A&M (currently ranked No. 14)
Perhaps what's more surprising is that the Buffs, a DII softball powerhouse, didn't make the tournament last year, making them a candidate for this list with a very strong bounce-back season. Sitting at 37-5, they have nine tough games remaining, including an upcoming weekend tilt against top-10 Lubbock Christian. As always, this team is loaded with big bats, including Ruby Salzman, one of DII softball's most consistent sluggers for the past five seasons, who has already matched her career high in homers with nine games remaining. The pitching has a combined 1.72 ERA and 1.09 WHIP and is very dangerous in the circle.
Mississippi College (currently ranked No. 19)
The Choctaws were a mere 22-23 last year and struggled in the Gulf South Conference to a 12-18 record. This year is quite the different story, already notching 30 wins, the first time they have done so since 2019. Mississippi College sits inside the NFCA top 20, is 16-5 in the GSC, and has a winning record against nationally ranked teams. Four players are hitting above .400 37 games into the season, led by recent GSC player of the week Kamryn Easton who has a boisterous 1.455 OPS and a team-high 14 home runs.
Oklahoma Baptist (currently ranked No. 22)
The Bison are 34-9 heading into this weekend’s play and 19-5 in the GAC. That already surpasses their breakout 33-win total from last year and is the single-season DII-era program record. Pitcher Kayleigh Jones is a big reason for that, most recently picking up her 24th win of the season, one more than anyone else in Bison history. Her 247 strikeouts are the most in DII as well, so it’s safe to say she’s having a solid season. Currently in the NFCA top 25, Oklahoma Baptist is enjoying another program first not only making the national rankings but climbing a few spots in each of the past three weeks.
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West Alabama (currently ranked No. 23)
Before the Tigers season is discussed, how about this fun fact? This past week, West Alabama swept a doubleheader… in which both Madison Wright and Hannah Mynard (above) threw perfect games. That’s right, 10 combined innings, 14 strikeouts, no hits, no walks, and two more wins to reach 31 on the season. Considering the Tigers won just 28 games last year and have 10 games left, this program is on the up and up. West Alabama recently cracked the top 25 and continues to climb and are top five in DII softball in home runs and slugging percentage. Slugger LP Trammell is battling for the DII softball lead with 18 dingers and her .973 slugging percentage is a top-five mark.
Columbus State (currently ranked No. 24)
While the Cougars are typical locks for 30 wins every year, if their program history books are correct, this is a squad that hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2013. So sitting at 33-12, three more wins than both the 2022 and 2021 squads, they look like they may change that history book. Sitting in second place in the Peach Belt Conference, the Cougars have a ton of momentum coming off a big series win over No. 1-ranked North Georgia on the weekend of April 9. Hannah Rose Corbin is having a tremendous season, hitting .431 with a 1.423 OPS and 12 home runs, while going 16-7 in the circle with 161 strikeouts in 136.1 innings pitched.
Charleston (WV) (Currently ranked No. 25, tied)
The Golden Eagles are 23-6 with just about 20 games left on the schedule. The 23 wins match how many losses they had last season, so this is certainly an improved team. Charleston made its 2023 NFCA top-25 debut this past week, entering tied at 25 with Wilmington (DE). Hannah Rose, a player-of-the-year finalist, leads the offense hitting a stupendous .515 with a 1.501 OPS, both of which are top-10 marks in DII. She had a three-home-run game on April 3, a game in which the Golden Eagles established a program record with eight round-trippers in one game. With the best record in MEC play, Charleston is looking dominant as it heads into the home stretch.
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Missouri Southern (Currently first out with 9 RVs)
The Lions were 28-7 when going to press, but on April 14, pulled off a doubleheader sweep of 20th-ranked Washburn. While the Lions were just shy of the past top 25 poll, a series win against Emporia State on April 15 should see them jump into the party. Coming off a 2022 in which they were just 26-25 this is a strong rebound run by Missouri Southern. The Lions are currently atop the MIAA rankings with a 13-1 record (15-1 including the Washburn series) and that in itself is impressive, considering the conference is home to the defending national champs and teams like Central Oklahoma which are tournament regulars.