We're off to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The 2023 DII softball championship finals field is set, and just eight teams remain. Both last year's national champion, Rogers State, and runner-up, Cal State Dominguez Hills, are out of the picture, so the search for the first repeat champion of the 2000s will be put on hold once again.
First, some transparency, and you know I like to be held accountable. I only predicted half the field correctly — Central Oklahoma, UT Tyler, North Georgia and Cal State San Marcos — so I've certainly seen better days. However, there is one major Cinderella still standing — No. 6 Cal State San Marcos — and I did get that prediction correct. Other interesting tidbits include:
- Of the teams remaining, half were the No. 1 seed in their part of the bracket. Wilmington (DE) and Grand Valley State were No. 2 seeds, while No. 3 Nova Southeastern pulled off a stunner to round out the finals.
- Four teams in this year's field are making program history, appearing in their first DII softball finals
- Just two teams remaining — Central Oklahoma and North Georgia — have won a DII softball national championship. Both have won in the last 10 years.
- Grand Valley State does have a national runners-up campaign in 2002. So, that makes another program that has come close in the field.
FOLLOW LIVE: Scores and updates from the finals
Alright, let's get to the finals.
The field of 8: What to know about the 2023 DII softball finals
East Stroudsburg. What a performance by the Warriors in the Super Regionals. After getting blanked by Charleston (WV) in the opener, they bounced back, with consecutive complete-game shutouts from Paige Zigmund and Leigh Ann Jenkins. What a long way this program has come. This is just the Warriors' fourth trip to the NCAA tournament, and now they are making their first finals appearance in program history. They've also set the program record for wins in a season with 43... and counting.
Central Oklahoma. The Bronchos return to the DII softball championship finals for the fourth time in program history. The last time they were there was 2013 when they won it all. That would be quite the nice 10th anniversary, don't you think? To win it all again? Well, Central Oklahoma has a big advantage to watch over the final few days of the season: The Bronchos have the best fielding defense, not only in the final eight, but all DII softball.
BRACKETOLOGY: Follow the interactive bracket
Wilmington (DE). Before the tournament started, I said "it feels like the Wildcats have been on the brink of something big for a few years running." The Wildcats had some obstacles in their way, but this year cleared one of the biggest (Adelphi) and finally advanced to their first DII softball championship finals in program history. Ace Kylee Gunkel was sensational, pitching one-run complete games in both victories over Adelphi. In fact, Wilmington has won every game she's appeared in thus far in the tournament, a span in which she's allowed just three earned runs in 30.1 innings.
Grand Valley State. The Lakers are back in the final eight for the third time in the past four years. The program is looking for its first elusive national championship, though. I don't know if the Lakers have a nickname for their ace, but it should be Hannah "They Can't" Beatus. She went the distance in both victories over UIndy, improving to 27-1 on the season with a 0.78 ERA and 187 strikeouts in 170.2 innings pitched. Her last loss came on March 5 to no fault of her own: In that one loss, she pitched a complete game, striking out nine, walking none, while allowing just two hits and one unearned run.
Nova Southeastern. The Sharks are another team making their DII softball finals debut. And what a way to do it, huh? Nova Southeastern shut out Tampa twice to advance... and the Spartans were the No. 1 team in the NFCA poll heading into the tournament. Alexis Smith is the bat to watch in the lineup, leading the team in hitting (.412), OPS (1.172), doubles (15), triples (14, the most in DII softball) home runs (5), runs scored (63), RBIs (48) and stolen bases (38). I'd say that's about as well-rounded a season a player can have.
UT Tyler. The Patriots are back in the final eight for the second year in a row. They advanced after an impressive sweep of a very good West Texas A&M team. That makes it 2-for-2 as an NCAA DII-eligible softball team. It's tough to figure out what is more mind boggling, the Patriots' single-season program record of 59 wins or the fact that they head to Chattanooga winners of 36 in a row. Interesting note: Their last loss was all the way back on March 10 in a non-conference showdown. That matchup was against Nova Southeastern, one of the last teams standing and potential opponent of UT Tyler.
HISTORY: Most DII softball titles and every winner ever
North Georgia. The Nighthawks are back in the DII softball finals... because of course the Nighthawks are back in the DII softball finals. It is the third-straight trip to the final eight for North Georgia, and the fourth time in the past five full seasons (excluding the COVID-canceled tournament). The Nighthawks have won 258 games in that span for an average of 51.6 victories per season (again that doesn't even include the 23-4 record when play halted in 2020). They also won the school's first-ever national championship back in 2015, so in terms of 10-year runs, there aren't many better than North Georgia in DII softball.
Cal State San Marcos. The Cougars round out the bunch of first timers in the DII softball finals. The Cougars;' offense is on fire, stomping opponents and taking down the No. 1 seed, No. 2 seed and No. 3 seed by a combined score of 38-5 (and three of those runs came in the thrilling 4-3 West Region-clinching victory). Obviously, scoring runs helps, but so does ace Jayline Sloss. The freshman is quickly putting herself on the map, pitching the Cougars to a perfect 5-0 in the NCAA tournament so far.