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2012 DII Baseball Regional Predictions

Seton Hill easily has the easiest path to the Atlantic title. After facing Winston-Salem in the first round, rather than playing another team which was victorious on opening day, they’ll play the loser of the Kutztown/Mercyhurst matchup. However I’ve never been a big WVIAC guy. The conference doesn’t have a lot of pop to me. I don’t question the Griffs – they’ve played and slugged it out with a strong out-of-conference schedule which included Tampa, Minnesota St, GVSU and Le Moyne, but they haven’t been tested in over two months. I think the more balanced PSAC schedule in which teams must bring their “A” game every week makes them better prepared for the postseason. That’s why my prediction to win the conference is whoever wins Game 6 in the bracket – a contest which presumably will be West Chester and host Kutztown. The two have split the season series 3-3 to date, with WCU winning the last matchup in the PSAC Tournament Championship. In a coin-flip I’m going to take the Rams to prevail and win that game and use their momentum to take the region and redeem last season’s debacle of a year.

How they’ll finish:
1. West Chester
2. Seton Hill
3. Kutztown

Player to Watch: The player I’m most excited to see perform in the entire tournament is Shepherd’s Nathan Minnich. The slugging senior has put up video game numbers this year and if he continues to hit against PSAC pitching I may have to give him my vote for the Tino Martinez Award. Until I see him swing against non WVIAC pitching, I’m reserving my vote.

 I think this is Minnesota State’s region to lose. The Mavs have the momentum after taking two in a row from St. Cloud State in the NSIC Tournament to win the conference crown and secure home field advantage in the region. It is tough to beat the same team three times in a row however, so I could see the Huskies flipping the script in Mankato. Two weeks ago I may have given Colorado Mesa a puncher’s chance to take the regional title, but after going 1-4 to finish the season I’m not sure if the team formally known as Mesa State can get hot once again and be the team that won seventeen of eighteen throughout April. Despite being the DII Championship runner-up last season, I don’t see Winona St as a threat to advance to Cary once again.

How they’ll finish:
1. Minnesota St
2. St. Cloud St.
3. Colorado Mesa

Player to Watch:  While the Mavs fizzled to close the season, leading hitter Jeff Popick remained hot and finished the year with a .424 batting average and an almost demonic .667 slugging percentage. He’s one of the toughest outs in the game and could help spur the Mavs to the final eight.

I haven’t been aboard the Penmen bandwagon all season and I’m not going to start now. SNHU was ranked in the top five and ten in the other rankings in April, and even received a first place vote; kowever the Penmen never cracked the top twenty here, peaking at #21. While top seeded Southern New Hampshire deserves some major accolades for their turn around of a season, I don’t think they’re ready to compete for regional titles just quite yet. Like the Atlantic Region, I think this bracket is going to come down to who wins Game 6 which should be Franklin Pierce and Le Moyne. The two clubs have been evenly matched all season, but the Dolphins won the last two to take the NE-10 Tournament Title. This is tough pick, but I’m going to have to take the Ravens due to their dynamic duo of Zach Mathieu and James Roche. The two combined for twenty-nine homeruns which is incredible considering they’ve used wood bats for all but five games this season. I think these games are going to be close and one well placed hit is going to make the difference in this region.

How they’ll finish:
1. Franklin Pierce
2. Le Moyne
3. St. Anselm

Player to Watch: The Raven’s Zach Mathieu is a 6’7” monster who likely would be leading DII in homeruns and doubles if he was swinging an aluminum bat rather than wood for the season. For him to hit for power and bat .388 in the NE-10 is, like my man Vizzini says, inconceivable.

I’m considering this region to be a two horse race between GLVC Champ Indianapolis and GLIAC Champ Grand Valley State and not giving any of the other team’s much of a chance – which means someone else is sure to take the region. To be completely honest I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the U Indy Greyhounds this season. The ‘Hounds didn’t enter the rankings until there were three weeks left in the regular season and they have been consistently overrated the past few seasons. But the more I look at the roster and the numbers they’ve put up this season, the more I think Indianapolis will win their region. I’m not counting out the Lakers by any means however. GVSU has been in this position year in and year out and know what it takes to make it to Cary. You know what, I’m not going to take Indy after all, I’m picking the Lakers. They’ve been there before and their experience will propel them to Carolina.

How they’ll finish:
2. Indianapolis
3. Northern Kentucky

Player to Watch: Brett Loeding of NKU is the unquestioned team MVP coming out of the bullpen. The hurler led the team in ERA, wins, saves, appearances, innings and strikeouts. He’ll be a valuable asset as the Norse make the transition to DI next season.

I think this is the toughest region of all to pick. I could see any of the top four teams being the last team standing once the final out is made. Mount Olive and Tusculum have the best records, but Armstrong, Francis Marion and Lander all hail from the Peach Belt Conference which is top-to-bottom one of the best in DII. I’m quietly rooting for FMU since that was College Baseball Lineup’s preseason number one pick, but I’m not going to bet the farm on the Patriots, even if they did beat South Carolina earlier this season. With the teams being this evenly matched, I’m going to have to go with Mount Olive. The Trojans have a pair of awesome bats in the middle of the lineup, but perhaps most importantly they’ll be sleeping in their own beds and playing on their home field with the opportunity to continue playing in front of their home fans if they were to advance.

How they’ll finish:
1. Mount Olive
2. Francis Marion
3. Tusculum

Player to Watch: Mount Olive catcher Geno Escalante has a school-record hitting 44 game hitting streak going into the regional. He and Jacob Rogers give MOC an enviable pair of bats in the heart of the Trojan batting order.

St. Mary’s has been the number two team in the College Baseball Rankings for almost the entire season and were never positioned any worse than number four. The Rattlers starting duo of Rene Solis and Carl O’Neal have gone a combined 24-2 with 14 complete games and 189 strikeouts on the season. When they’re unable to finish a contest, St. Mary’s has stopper Jonathan Perez in the bullpen who has a 0.64 ERA and 16 saves on the season. Despite their numbers, the NCAA has given the number one seed and homefield advantage to Central Missouri. The problem with UCM is that the MIAA was down this season – there isn’t a second team from the conference that I would have even come close to extending an postseason bid to. My darkhorse pick is Southern Arkansas. SAU has been coming on strong as of late and won the inaugural Great American Conference regular and postseason crowns. I’m picking St. Mary’s and of all the regions is the pick I’m most comfortable going with.

How they’ll finish:
1. St. Mary’s
2. Southern Arkansas
3. Central Missouri

Player to Watch: St. Edward’s reliever Stephen Johnson is one of DII’s top prospects and for good reason. So far this year he has a tiny 1.35 ERA with 16 SVs and has K’d 68 batters in just 40 innings pitched. He allowed half as many hits as he has struckout, finishing the regular season with opponents batting just .139 against him.

As always this region is stacked with talent and four of the last six team to win the national championship came out of the South. As such, odd are the team dogpiling in Cary will be the team that emerges from this group of eight. Despite the number of top teams, I can’t see any reason why to select anyone other than Tampa to win. Other than the preseason rankings (in which UT was positioned at number two) the Spartans have been the top ranked team in the College Baseball Lineup every week except for one. The reason they’re favored is their top shelf pitching staff led by Sean Bierman who has gone 8-2 with a 1.93 ERA. Had Bierman been hurling in a different conference rather than the Sunshine State, his ERA would likely be much lower – perhaps even a negative number – that’s how good he is. The team I like to challenge Tampa the most is Delta State. The Statesmen don’t have a player with prolific numbers, but instead have a roster filled with top players, any one of which can be the hero on any given day. Northern Alabama has been underated all season by outlets other than College Baseball Lineup and could be a team to make some noise as well. The winner of the DSU/UNA game in the first round will put themselves in great position to steal the regional title from Tampa.

How they’ll finish:
1. Tampa
2. Delta State
3. Northern Alabama

Players to watch: Had Nova Southeastern fared better in the series with Tampa I may have picked the Sharks to upset the Spartans, but UT soundly swept NSU, outscoring them 42-10 in three games and casts doubts if they can usurp the Spartans. Nevertheless, the Sharks are a team to fear with two prolific bats in second basemen Carloos Asuaje and outfielder Aero Regoli. Asuaje batted .414 with thirty extra base hits and Regoli crushed 16 homeruns. Both players were also dangerous on the basepaths, safely swiping a combined 29 bases.

Choosing the winner of the West Region is a not an easy task because none of the four teams knocks my socks off. Western Oregon has a 40-9 record and will be hosting the games, but, like Seton Hill in the Atlantic, didn’t have much competition during their conference schedule. The Wolves did take a series from UCSD, but that was during the first week of February. Traditionally I’ve been a believer in the CCAA champion Tritons which was College Baseball Lineup’s preseason number one last year’s club, but this year’s roster is almost completely different. UCSD also has a new head coach at the reigns so the whole team is still a little green around the gills. Nevertheless I’m going to go with the Tritons by the slimmest of margins. One thing UCSD didn’t lose is their aggressive play in which they stole 103 bases and pounded out 101 doubles and 18 triples on the year. Their continued small ball approach makes them a tough out from lead off to the last batter and will be my choice to go to Cary. It should be noted however that this synopsis has been rewritten at least a dozen times with each team being selected to win the region.

How they’ll finish:
1. UC San Diego
2. Western Oregon
3. Chico State

Player to Watch: Western Oregon ace Grady Wood earned GNAC Pitcher of the Year for the second year in a row posting a perfect 12-0 record with a 1.30 ERA. He has extending his two season long winning streak to 20 games and with one more win he’ll have the NCAA Division II all-time record of 21.