The 2023 DII softball championship is creeping closer. Conference tournaments are underway, there's a mere one regional ranking left, and the selection show is right here on NCAA.com at 10 a.m. ET on Monday, May 8.
With the previous regional rankings, we finally saw some clarity on the top teams in each region. But what about those teams not ranked No. 1? Teams like Cal State Dominguez Hills and Biola have shown us anything can happen in recent tournaments: Is there a Cinderella in our midsts for 2023?
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Here's an early look at eight teams that could make surprise run to Chattanooga, Tenn. for the DII softball championship finals on May 25-31.
West Chester is the easy choice here. The Golden Rams are not the No. 1 seed and have represented the Atlantic Region in the finals in three of the past four finals. The PSAC has had the Atlantic Region champion in four of the past five seasons.
That's why there is some sleeper appeal to Charleston (WV). The Golden Eagles lead the MEC in hitting, with a conference-best .324 batting average, .889 OPPS, 36 home runs and 247 RBIs. While West Virginia Wesleyan — the last non-PSAC team to make it to the finals in 2017 — has the best pitching, Charleston is right behind with a dazzling 1.83 ERA and 307 strikeouts. Plus, they have one of the best players in DII in Hannah Rose. The Golden Eagles swept Fairmont State (the team right behind them in the regional rankings) recently but will need to figure out how to get more wins against West Virginia Wesleyan to advance. Still, this team has plenty of sleeper appeal.
To find a sleeper in the Central Region you have to dig deep. Rogers State, ranked No. 3 in the regional rankings, is the defending champions and Central Oklahoma is a perennial contender. That's why I'm looking at the GAC for a sleeper contender.
Since winning the rubber match against nationally ranked Southern Arkansas back on March 25, the OBU Bison have not lost a game. They head into the GAC tournament winners of 17 in a row. Yes, they lost the season series to Harding, but the two losses were tightly contested, and this is a much different team than it was in February. OBU is second in its conference in hitting and has the best pitching in the GAC with a 1.49 ERA and 431 strikeouts in 337.2 innings pitched. Kayleigh Jones has been remarkable in the circle with a 0.66 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 302 strikeouts in 211 innings... we'll be seeing her a lot in May if the Bison go far.
Adelphi looks really strong, and the Panthers have a great chance for a second-straight trip to the finals, but there's a team lurking in the CACC that can both hit and pitch and may have a chance to mix things up in the East, a part of the country typically dominated by the NE10.
Caldwell just split with No. 3-regionally ranked Bentley to close the regular season, so we know the Cougars can hang with the top brass in the East. They also have the best pitching in the CACC, totaling a 1.77 ERA and only allowing seven home runs this season. Their 1.09 WHIP is a top-20 mark in the division as well. The Cougars are deep in the circle with four pitchers who have made at least nine starts and each one posting a sub-2.00 ERA. While you won't find many home runs in the lineup, this team can hit — their .337 batting average is second in the conference.
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UIndy and Grand Valley State are tournament stalwarts and there should be no surprise that the two are No. 1 and 2 in the Midwest Region, respectively. What is surprising is to see the McKendree Bearcats there.
McKendree was a mere 20-24 last season but are heading into the GLVC tournament sitting at 29-14, a much-improved team. There may be more talented sleepers to pick, but the underdog, turnaround story is always a good one to watch. The big improvement has come in the circle, where the Bearcats ERA has improved from 4.75 last year to a very nice 2.85 this year, while the team WHIP is also vastly improved, down to 1.17 after a high 1.60 last year. Ellie Quaethem leads the charge, sitting at 19-3 with a 1.33 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 220 strikeouts in 142 innings pitched.
South Central Region
West Texas A&M in currently ranked No. 2 and has two national titles since 2014. UT Tyler has done nothing but win since becoming a DII program and are ranked No. 1. However, Colorado Christian had a breakout 2022 and you can argue is even better than last year.
If the tournament started today based off the current regional rankings, the Cougars are likely the most dangerous three-seed in all DII. They have a program-record 52 wins and a balanced attack in the circle and at the plate. Kenzie Middleton sets the tone in the lineup, hitting .417 with a 1.293 OPS, 21 doubles, 16 home runs and 15 stolen bases. This team has plenty of pop with four sluggers with double-digit home runs. In the circle, Kali Crandall (1.53 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 208 Ks in 182.2 innings pitched) has been fantastic but having Abrie Castillo makes for a very formidable two-headed monster in the starting rotation.
Beating Tampa or Saint Leo in this part of the country will be a very tough task. The two South powers have two of the best pitching staffs in the land. So, maybe the team that beats either one of them has to have some boom sticks.
Mississippi College has improved from a 22-23 team to a 40-8, nationally ranked power in one season. The lineup is loaded with power, with McCall Lee, Kamryn Eaton, Jenna Ergle, and Brooke Fagan combining for 57 home runs between the four. They've scored 408 runs this season, a top-five mark in the division. Bats alone won't carry a team in this part of the country, so Camryn Bailey (22-4, 2.35 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) will have to be a big-time ace for the Choctaws to go far.
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North Georgia looks tough atop the Southeast, Columbus State can absolutely rake, and the SAC monsters of Wingate and Lenoir-Rhyne are no surprises at Nos. 2 and 3 in the region. But, how about the Conference Carolinas? Does it have a team that can make a run?
Well, speaking of runs, Francis Marion scores them just about as well as any team in DII softball, its 437 second in DII softball. While there isn't a ton of power in the lineup, there is a lot of bat-to-ball skills, as the Patriots lead DII with a .383 batting average, while posting one of DII's best OPS at 1.053. Megan Matsil (hitting .469) is the conference's player of the year and one of three Patriots hitting .440 or better. Danielle Karacson leads the power charge with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs. The pitching will need to come together, especially in a Southeast Region that sees the top-three scoring teams in the country (UNG, Francis Marion and Columbus State).
The Wild West is always a fun region to watch. Concordia (CA) is simply outstanding and one of the best pitching teams in the country. It's hard to see CUI not winning this part of the bracket, but top seeds have not always been so successful in the West. No. 2-seeded Sonoma State looks pretty unbeatable as well, leading the CCAA in pitching and hitting.
Let's go with Cal State San Marcos here. The Cougars were one of the best teams in the country last year, making it all the way to Super Regionals. At 27-18, people may think they have lost their shine, but let's face reality: The Cougars are still ranked No. 5 in the West. The Cougars don't over power you in any one area but have balance to their lineup and pitching staff. Paige Donnelly leads the way with a .367 average, 1.129 OPS and eight home runs, while the rotation has combined for a respectable 2.37 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in the circle. Would it be wild to see the Cougars advance. It sure would, but isn't that what usually happens out West?