Anyone who doesn’t have Delta State as the top team in DII is a dolt. The Statesmen started the season with a sweep of Montevallo, a club which over the past couple years has been extremely good but not quite great. The next weekend DSU smothered Nova Southeastern, making them look as foolish a guy who wears a polo shirt underneath a sports jersey. The remaining wins have been over Mississippi Valley State, a DI team (at least on paper) and Florida Southern, one of DII’s traditional powers. The sweep over NSU was particularly impressive to me as I had them pegged as being a top ten team and national title contender before the season started. It’s not just me who thought the Sharks were a good team either as they were picked as the preseason number two team in the Sunshine State conference by the SSC’s head coaches. Right now DSU is in the driver’s seat for hosting the South Regional. If they can win their next two series against West Florida and North Alabama the road to Cary will go through Cleveland, MS.
Mount Olive is a worthy runner-up to the top spot. They are 13-1 so far and absolutely crushing the ball. The Trojans and score more than Channing Tatum at Ladies Night and have outplated opposition 158 to 45. Conference Carolinas is a respectable conference, but doesn’t have anyone else with the clout to take the conference crown. They’ll lose some games here and there but won’t be challenged in the standings meaning it is unlikely they’ll fall from the top ten.
My preseason number one was St. Mary’s and I’d still put my money on the Rattlers to take a series from any team in the USA. With a pair of elite aces in Carl O’Neal and Rene Solis I can’t see St. Mary’s not making it to Cary again this season. I don’t think they should be out of anyone’s top three. They lost some games they probably shouldn’t have, but those losses will make them better in the long run. Teams need to lose a couple of games to be reminded they’re not invincible; especially preseason number ones.
Tampa is always going to compete because Joe Urso is able to draw top DI and JC transfers. The question the Spartans have is if the team can gel like a club where the players have developed together since they were freshman. UT’s two loses scare me. A top team like the Spartans has no business losing to teams like Hillsdale and Bentley – especially at home. I makes me think Tampa isn’t always bringing their “A” game to the diamond. Teams aren’t going to roll over just because they have “Tampa” across their jersey. If anything their opponents are going to play harder. For teams like Hillsdale College a win over Tampa is just as good as winning a championship.
Minnesota State and St. Cloud State are as similar as any two teams can be. Both come from the north, play in the same conference and return a boatload of skilled veteran players. Neither team has been on the field much this season so it’s hard to draw too many early conclusions about them. Nevertheless, I expect both to be one of the final teams playing for a trip to Cary; most likely against each other. If they played soccer instead of baseball their games would be decided by shootouts – which by the way is probably the dumbest way to end a sports competition.
Central Missouri is a Midwest version of the University of Tampa. The Mules are able to recruit top DI and JC transfer talent from the middle of the country such as Kyle Grieshaber who played at Louisville and Jake Heissler from Hutchinson CC. One thing that makes me sketchy about UCM’s title aspirations is that they don’t have a top rival to compete with. Emporia State had been the Anakin to the Mule’s Obi-Wan, but the Hornets are having a down year. The best team UCM will face until the Central Regional will be Missouri Western State and they’re probably mid top 20’s team at best. Look for the Mules to remain in the top ten and likely the top five for the remainder of the regular season since they won’t have anyone to give them trouble.
Chico State is once again the stalwart of the West and every indication is that they’ll be the team to beat once again. So far the Wildcats are relatively unproven. More than a third of their wins have been compiled via victories over the Academy of Art. Their first true test won’t be for a couple of weeks when they face an up and coming CUMB club. However no team in the West seems to be close to Chico talent wise right now. I thought UC San Diego had a puncher’s chance, but they fell off last week; however if anyone is going to take the Wildcats’ ticket to Cary I’d still put my money on it being the Tritons. The development of the PacWest conference will help the West to have better competition. Right now whoever wins the Collegiate Athletic Association title is usually the team that gets to pack its bags to Cary. Outside teams like Western Oregon and Dixie State have been worthy adversaries, but they can’t reload every year like clubs like Chico, UCSD and Sonoma State have been able to do with decent success.
Last year USC Aiken was the final team left out of the NCAAs. It was apparent from reading Twitter and Facebook comments the Pacers felt they deserved to be in the extended postseason. I agreed, but wouldn’t have put much stock in their title chances anyways. This year that is not the case. The Pacers’ pitchers are doing a phenomenal job and USCA took two of three from a better-than-their-record-shows Francis Marion team last weekend. Definitely a team to watch.
Can’t say too much about Franklin Pierce right now other than its interesting how one of the best teams is from a school named after one of the worst presidents. They didn’t play until last week and when they did their opposition wasn’t of the top caliber so being 5-0 at this point isn’t too much of a bragging point. If Ryan Thompson returns to his 2011 form when he was a Tino Martinez Award candidate, getting past them will be an uphill battle for any Northeast school. The Ravens are the team to beat, but Le Moyne and Southern New Hampshire aren’t daisies at all. The Dolphins are 0-4, but each of their losses are to highly ranked clubs. They were exiled from the rankings this week but probably didn’t deserve it. SNHU played the same caliber of opposition as FPU, but blew the doors off their competition which I found a bit surprising. I knew the Penmen could pitch, but didn’t think they’d hit the cover off the ball like they did. If someone other than one of these three clubs captures the Northeast crown you can color me surprised.
I’m still not sure what to think of Lander and West Florida. To be honest I didn’t really have Lander on the radar at the beginning of the season as a top team nationally. I had them pegged as more of a 30-40 range team. I had to talk myself into putting the Argos in the preseason rankings. They weren’t particularly impressive last season, which isn’t shocking considering how many players left after their ’11 title and they also have a bunch of transfers. Even with both of these clubs being on the outskirts of the top ten, I still look at them as dark horses to advance to Cary. I’m not saying by any means they are not good enough to earn their way there, I just need to see a little more to show that their early season success isn’t a fluke. Needless to say Lander’s lopsided win over the defending champs West Chester goes a long way in showing the Bearcats are too legit to quit. We’ll see about UWF this week when they play Delta State.
Seton Hill is an enigma. They are difficult to gauge because they are so far above the rest of the teams in their conference that you don’t know if they are winning because they’re that good or if because the other teams are that bad. I wish they would have gotten some of their canceled early games played because they had some great games on the agenda. Right now we only have a 1-0 record to measure them with. This weekend they play Florida Tech who is a team on the periphery of the rankings so a series win over the Panthers could prove the Griffins are indeed a top team.
I hate to lump Southern Arkansas, Angelo State, St. Edward’s and Texas A&M Kingsville into one Texarkansian group, but each of these teams for me would be a pick’em series if the games were to be played on a neutral field. ASU had a series win over SAU, but the Rams didn’t separate themselves from the Muleriders after the series. In fact, SAU appears to be the better club on paper at this point, albeit only marginally. St. Edward’s plays Incarnate Word this week who very easily could be mixed in with these teams as well; unofficially, the Cardinals were team number 31 this week and probably would have joined the rankings had they not had the week off. It’s difficult to raise a team’s stock for a good week of practice. TAMUK has been a pleasant surprise this season after starting the year unranked. They have wins over three different top ten ranked teams (St. Mary’s, Central Missouri and St. Cloud State) and I look forward to their upcoming games with St. Mary’s and Angelo State.
Catawba’s post season performance last year gained them a bunch of credibility in my book, but after getting swept by Newberry I’m not sure what to think of the Indians. They have some really great players and I expect them to capture their conference title but it looks like it won’t be as easy as anticipated. They had an early series win over Tusculum, but the Pioneers are a bubble team right now. The Indians have a pair of games at USC Aiken in early March which could be a good gauge of their ability, but those are midweek games so neither team may not have their aces on the hill. I’d guess Catawba will remain in the 10-15 positions for the rest of the year. I don’t see them losing too many games to drop them down, but they don’t have too many big games on the schedule which will propel them back up into the top ten either.
Grand Valley State needs to get on the damn field already. The Lakers haven’t been able to play due to their location and winter weather. I’m not a big fan of the overall competition level of the GLIAC (or the GLVC for that matter) so I expect the Lakers to go deep in the NCAA postseason. Their only competition at this point appears to be Indianapolis, but that’s a team I’m not sold on by any means. The ‘Hounds are gonna get a bunch of wins with games with Oakland City, Trevecca Nazarene and McKendree on the schedule, but will they win when the competition like GVSU comes calling? We’ll see. UIndy has only been able to play a pair of games themselves so far. I already miss Northern Kentucky as a potential Regional champion from this region as the switch to DI — there’s something cool about a team called the Norse with a big viking helmet and swords on their logo.
I took a long look at Alabama Huntsville before the season and quickly dismissed them from being a preseason top 30 team. I apparently needed to look harder because the Chargers are playing some good early season ball. They had a series win over Barry last week and two of their three losses this season were in extra innings – the other was only by two runs. I’m not saying I was wrong on keeping UAH out of the preseason top 30 quite yet, but it sure looks that way. One of their players has a 34 game hitting streak but I’m not going to mention his name because I don’t want to jinx him. UAH looks like a solid 15-25 team. If they advance higher than that I’d be surprised again. It doesn’t matter though, a ranking that high gets you into the NCAAs where anything can happen.
Every year it seems like Colorado Mesa, or the team formally known as Mesa State, spends the entire season in the lower to mid 20’s in the rankings. This year shouldn’t be any different. I don’t believe the Mavs are positioned in some of the other rankings, which is silly. They lost their opening series of the year so they were immediately shunned from the rankings by overreacting pollsters. I hate that – although not as much when a team jumps from the “Receiving Votes” category into the top ten which happens waaaaay to often. The Mavs will hang it there. I guarantee it. They took a series from Grand Canyon in Phoenix last week and that’s no cakewalk.
UNC Pembroke has a pair of aces in Ethan Carter and Dale Innes that make them a dangerous team to beat. In a lot of ways the Braves are like St. Mary’s. If they can get two quick wins from the top of their staff they’ll be able to win any series and capture any conference or region crown. UNCP has been on the cusp of something big for a couple of years now. This could be their season to make some serious waves. It will have to be this year because Carter and Innes will be playing professionally next season.
I don’t believe Nova Southeastern, Francis Marion or Missouri Western State are ranked by anyone else – I understand why as their combined record at this point is 15-13, but national ranking should be based on winning percentage. Just because a team is winning four out of five games it doesn’t make them a title contender; it may mean they are playing a bunch of cupcakes. In case of the Sharks, Patriots and Griffons each teams has a talent roster and shouldn’t be buried because of a slow start out of the gate. I still think NSU is a national title contender; they just need to get some kinks worked out. I fully expect the Sharks to finish either first or second in the Sunshine State Conference standings which means they’re pretty gosh darn good ball club. FMU stunk at the beginning of last season too, but at the end of the year they finished a game away from advancing to Cary. Missouri Western is a good team but not great team in a down conference. As such a couple wins at the right time during the end of the season could send them a long way. I’m not going all-in at this point on any of those teams, but I wouldn’t bet against them either.
It’s not easy being the defending champion. West Chester will have a target on their back all season. It will be nice to see the Rams finally get on the field again and see what they are made of. I’d be surprised to see them making a return trip to the CWS, especially after getting smoked in their season-opening series, but it wouldn’t shock me. Their pitching staff is good enough to put them back in title contention, but I do think the loss of Joe Wendle to the professional ranks is a huge hole in the Rams’ batting order as well as clubhouse.
I don’t have much to say about Dixie State or Sonoma State at this point. DSU was one of the last teams kept out of the rankings so I can vouch for them being legit but needing a little more machismo to catch my eye as a national title contender . SSU didn’t get much of a look before the season started to be 100% honest with you. I figured they’d be a respectable .500 team in the CCAA, but didn’t know if they’d be able to make the jump to being one of the top teams in the West. I do think either team will have their hands full in taking the West Region title from Chico State. Those ‘Cats have claws.