The NAIA opening round concluded last week and only 10 teams remain in the running to emerge as the division’s national champions. A surprising omission from the teams headed to Lewiston for the NAIA World Series are the two teams who prevailed over the rankings last week, Tennessee Wesleyan and the Cumberlands. Both were upset in the opening round to have their season come to an unexpected and sudden end. Along with the last NAIA rankings is a review of how each of the division’s Top 25 fared in the opening round of the national tournament.
In NCAA action, the regionals for D-II and D-III were announced Sunday. In each division the teams playing in their regionals are listed along with the pick to advance to the final eight.
These are the penultimate editions of the small school rankings. The final rankings will be posted once all of the divisions’ champions have been determined.
1. Seton Hill Griffins, Rank 6
2. Millersville Marauders, Rank 19
3. West Virginia State Yellow Jackets, Not Ranked
4. Bloomsburg Huskies, Not Ranked
5. Charleston (WV) Golden Eagles, Not Ranked
The pitching of Seton Hill, whose team ERA was well over a run less than any other team in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference at 3.11, propelled the team to a 34-6 record so far this season. It would have been nice to see what kind of numbers Jared Kollar would have compiled had he been able to throw an entire regular season. Over 10 starts spanning the past two seasons, he had a 0.92 ERA over 49 innings while only allowing 34 hits with 73 strikeouts. The Griffins also have a well-balanced offense which can hit with power and provide speed on the basepaths and are unquestionably the favorite to advance. While Bloomsburg won series over both SHU and Millersville in the PSAC tournament, I think Millersville is the more likely to make it to the final eight should Seton Hill falter.
1. Central Missouri Mules, Rank 1
2. Augustana (SD), Rank 4
3. Minnesota State, Rank 13
4. Arkansas Tech Wonderboys, Not Ranked
5. Southern Arkansas Muleriders, Not Ranked
6. Henderson State Reddies, Not Ranked
The Mules were ranked second in the preseason and advanced to the No. 1 position after capturing the MIAA tournament title for the 20th time in the last 27 years. The trio of Dusty Stroup, Josh Schumacher and Erik Webb may be the best threesome in D-II. Offensively the team is a juggernaut with eight players who appeared in at least 30 games that batted over .300. The pitching staff is led by Mason Green who held opposition to a .190 batting average over 84 2/3 innings with 101 strikeouts. The Mules, who are hosting the regional, are the pick to advance, but they should be challenged by the two schools from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Minnesota State won two-of-three over Augustana in the NSIC tournament, but the Vikings won three-of-five overall which included a doubleheader shutout sweep at the end of April. If either were to move on to Cary it wouldn’t be a huge upset as both spent the bulk of the season in the top-10.
On a side note it is unfortunate that neither Missouri Southern or Northeastern State, the next two teams in the MIAA standings, were not selected for the tournament. Instead, there are three teams from the Greater American Conference. MSSU’s Zach Parish is likely the top hurler in D-II and could have made them a dark horse to advance.
1. Southern New Hampshire, Rank 24
2. St. Thomas Aquinas Spartans, Not Ranked
3. Molloy Lions, Not Ranked
4. Franklin Pierce Ravens, Not Ranked
5. Goldey-Beacom Lightning, Not Ranked
6. Dominican (NY) Chargers, Not Ranked
The Penmen, who won their program’s third Northeast 10 title, are the choice to advance. Their team ERA is more than a full run less than their NE-10 counterparts while also striking out well more than a full batter an inning at 10.76 K/9. A STAC success would not be a surprise here as the Spartans only lost four games this entire season and four of them were by a single run. It’s really a coin-flip choice between the two.
1. Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars, Rank 10
2. Trevecca Nazarene Trojans, Not Ranked
3. Davenport Panthers, Not Ranked
4. Lindenwood Lions, Not Ranked
5. Quincy Hawks, Not Ranked
6. Northwood Wolves, Not Ranked
This may be the most balanced of the regional brackets. The Prairie Stars are ranked in the top-10 but will be tested by host Lindenwood, three quality clubs from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and a TNU team which waltzed through the Great Midwest Athletic Conference regular season and tournament schedules.
For this group I think the overall offense is just too strong to select anyone aside from UIS. They crushed the ball all year and have the prolific performer Zion Pettigrew in the middle of the lineup. On the mound their pitchers struck out 408 batters in 344 1/3 innings with a team ERA of 3.58. I do think that Davenport could steal this region. They win games in bunches and are riding a 10-game winning streak into the regional after sweeping their way to the GLIAC title. They started the season with a series win over Central Missouri and also took two from Trevecca Nazarene early in the year. They spent the first half of the season in the rankings and were one of the last teams out this week.
1. West Florida Argos, Rank 6
2. Lee Flames, Rank 16
3. Tampa Spartans, Rank 9
4. Delta State Statesmen, Not Ranked
5. Alabama-Huntsville Chargers, Not Ranked
6. Shorter Hawks, Not Ranked
The Sunshine State Conference, with Tampa, Nova Southeastern, Lynn and Florida Southern, has captured eight of the last 15 D-II national titles. An argument could be made against the SSC not being the top baseball conference at the level, but it would be incorrect. Thus, it was a surprise to only see one team from the conference invited to the round of six. The SSC’s decision to play an abbreviated season (no school played 30 games total) must have been judged unfavorably as only Tampa will be playing in what is essentially the Gulf South Conference II.
The Spartans are the best team overall in the region, but they only played 20 total games and haven’t had a matchup since May 1 when they dropped both games of a doubleheader at Florida Southern. Will the Spartans be rested for the region or rusty? That is the question. I’m rolling the dice and picking UT to make it to Cary once again.
1. Catawba Indians, Rank 11
2. Mount Olive Trojans, Rank 12
3. Wingate Bulldogs, 17
4. North Greenville Crusaders, Rank 5
5. UNC Pembroke Braves, Rank 21
6. Columbus State Cougars, Rank 15
The Southeast will be the most competitive of the eight regionals as each of the six teams spent the entire season in the Perfect Game 25. As a testament to the strength of the conferences which make up the region, there were two other teams, North Georgia and Newberry, who were also ranked but didn’t get invites to continue due to the unfortunate six-school cap for the group.
North Greenville started and finished the regular season as the No. 5 team in the PG rankings and will be the host of the cutthroat group. They have a tremendous offense which batted .358 as a team and are led by John Michael Faile, who may be the top player at the D-II level. The Crusaders’ pitching staff doesn’t put up gaudy numbers, but they are rock solid on the mound. NGU is also extremely talented defensively. Consequently they’ll be my choice to advance; however none of the six would be a surprise or undeserving.
South Central Regional
1. Colorado Mesa Mavericks, Rank 3
2. West Texas A&M Buffaloes, Rank 8
3. Angelo State Rams, Rank 2
4. UC Colorado Springs Mountain Lions, Rank 18
The Rams were my preseason pick to take the title and I’m going to stick with them to advance out of this quartet of teams which features three top-10 schools. The Rams, who are hosting the region and planning on using their home field advantage, are batting .351 as a team with each of their everyday players swinging safely over .300. The team is very aggressive on the basepaths with 123 stolen bases so far on the season. Josh Elvir and Trent Baker could be D-II’s best batter/pitcher combo.
UC Colorado Springs could be the spoiler in this group. They bested Colorado Mesa twice in the RMAC tournament, as well as once in the regular season, to steal the region’s fourth spot from MSU Denver.
1. Azusa Pacific Cougars, Rank 14
2. Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks, Not Ranked
3. Western Oregon Wolves, Not Ranked
With the California Collegiate Athletic Association cancelling their 2021 baseball season, the region’s traditionally top conference won’t be sending a team to the tournament. The five-team Great Northwest Athletic Conference hasn’t had much luck advancing out of the West to move on to the final eight, but has two teams taking on Azusa Pacific for that honor. Nonetheless, the Cougars should overmatch their northern-based counterparts and move on to Cary. If NNU, who has a 31-7 record and a win over Colorado Mesa, upsets APU it would definitely be a surprise, but not a shock.
|1||2||Central Missouri Mules||MO||39-6||3-0|
|2||3||Angelo State Rams||TX||39-7||3-0|
|3||1||Colorado Mesa Mavericks||CO||41-5||4-2|
|5||5||North Greenville Crusaders||SC||33-11||0-0|
|6||7||West Florida Argos||FL||34-9||2-1|
|7||6||Seton Hill Griffins||PA||35-6||1-2|
|8||8||West Texas A&M Buffs||TX||32-7||0-0|
|10||10||Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars||IL||37-6||0-0|
|12||12||Mount Olive Trojans||NC||35-10||0-0|
|13||14||Minnesota State Mavericks||MN||37-8||3-1|
|14||13||Azusa Pacific Cougars||CA||33-8||4-0|
|15||15||Columbus St. Cougars||GA||29-14||0-0|
|18||NR||UC Colorado Springs Mountain Lions||CO||30-11||4-1|
|21||21||UNC Pembroke Braves||NC||29-13||0-0|
|22||22||North Georgia Nighthawks||GA||30-15||0-0|
|23||23||Southern Arkansas Muleriders||AR||27-14||0-0|
|24||24||Southern New Hampshire Penmen||NH||24-6||3-0|
Dropped: No. 18 Metro State
1. Southeastern Fire – The Fire are headed back to Lewiston after sweeping their way through their opening round bracket with wins over UCSB and Middle Georgia State.
2. Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs – The Bulldogs had their dominant season come to an earlier-than-anticipated close as they couldn’t get by the resurgent Grenadiers of Indiana Southeast in the opening round.
3. Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies – GGC lost early in the opening round to Hope International, but came back to win three games, including two over the Royals, to move on to Lewiston for the third-straight occasion.
4. Central Methodist Eagles – The Eagles bested McPherson and William Carey twice to earn their first-ever invite to Lewiston. It is the first time in 22 years a team from the Heart of America Athletic Conference will be making the trip to Lewiston.
5. Faulkner Eagles – The Eagles earned their eighth straight trip to the NAIA World Series with wins over St. Thomas and Vanguard.
6. Indiana Southeast Grenadiers – IUS twice defeated top-ranked and defending national champion Tennessee Wesleyan to win their opening round bracket. They will be making their first trip to the NAIA World Series in school history.
7. Cumberlands Patriots – The Patriots suffered two straight losses in their hosted opening round region for an early exit from the national postseason.
8. LSU Shreveport Pilots – After fending off elimination twice, LSUS earned the opportunity to play in Lewiston for the first time since 2012 when they finished third in the tournament. The Pilots had two wins over both Reinhardt and Point Park to advance.
9. Lewis-Clark State Warriors – The Warriors will be playing the NAIA World Series by virtue of hosting the tournament.
10. Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles – OKWU had wins over Indiana Tech and Indiana Wesleyan to advance to Lewiston.
11. William Carey Crusaders – The Crusaders had wins over Benedictine Mesa and McPherson in the opening round, but were bested twice by Central Methodist to have their season come to a close.
12. USAO Drovers – The Drovers 0-2 performance in the Bellevue bracket was one of the biggest upsets in the first round. Ace hurler Colton Williams was dealt the first loss of his USAO career and finished with a career 33-1 over three seasons.
13. Keiser Seahawks – Keiser defeated Oklahoma City twice and Ottawa once to earn their second-ever trip to the NAIA World Series.
14. Vanguard Lions – The Lions earned an extra-innings win to push Faulkner to a winner-take-all title game in the opening round, but were sent home for the summer by the Eagles.
15. Concordia (NE) Bulldogs – After forcing an if-necessary title game against host Bellevue, the Bulldogs rallied late to win over the Bruins to earn their first trip ever to Lewiston.
16. Oklahoma City Stars – OCU had opening round wins over Benedictine, Loyola and Ottawa, but were beaten twice by Keiser to get eliminated.
17. Bryan Lions – The Lions eliminated Fisher and South Carolina Beaufort from the opening round, but couldn’t defeat Middle Georgia State as the Knights edged them twice.
18. Middle Georgia State Knights – The Knights earned two tight wins over Bryan in the opening round. Each of those victories moved them into a matchup with host Southeastern, who in turn defeated and eliminated them.
19. Loyola Wolfpack – The Wolfpack was 0-2 in their hosted regional with losses to Ottawa and Oklahoma City.
20. Antelope Valley Pioneers – Despite being excluded from the opening round, UAV remains in the rankings based upon their regular season resume.
21. Hope International Royals – The Royals were in the driver’s seat in their opening round bracket after earnings wins over Westmont and Georgia Gwinnett, but lost two additional games to the Grizzlies to get eliminated.
22. Benedictine Mesa Redhawks – The Redhawks lost a 2-1 squeaker to William Carey and eliminated Doane in the loser’s bracket before having their season end at the hands of McPherson in the O’Fallon region.
23. Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats – IWU won their opening game of the national tournament, but were subsequently ousted via losses to Oklahoma Wesleyan and Indiana Tech.
24. Columbia Cougars – The Cougars defeated Olivet Nazarene in the opening round but were felled by Indiana Wesleyan and Indiana Tech to have their season come to an end.
25. St. Thomas Bobcats – The Bobcats had a win over Our Lady of the Lake in the opening round but also had a pair of one run losses to Faulkner and Freed-Hardeman to get eliminated.
|2||1||Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs||TN||53-6||2-2|
|3||4||Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies||GA||46-10||4-2|
|4||5||Central Methodist Eagles||MO||46-6||3-0|
|6||8||Indiana Southeast Grenadiers||IN||48-14||3-0|
|8||10||LSU Shreveport Pilots||LA||44-14||4-1|
|9||9||Lewis-Clark State Warriors||ID||41-4||0-0|
|10||11||Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles||OK||49-9||3-1|
|11||12||William Carey Crusaders||MS||36-12||2-2|
|16||16||Oklahoma City Stars||OK||36-19||3-2|
|18||24||Middle Georgia State Knights||GA||36-20||2-1|
|20||18||Antelope Valley Pioneers||CA||18-5||0-0|
|21||20||Hope International Royals||CA||29-15||2-2|
|22||14||Benedictine Mesa Redhawks||AZ||32-16||1-2|
|23||21||Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats||IN||44-14||1-2|
|25||25||St. Thomas Bobcats||FL||34-21||1-2|
Auburn, New York Region
1. Eastern Connecticut State Warriors, Rank 21
2. SUNY Cortland Red Dragons, Rank 9
3. Keystone College Giants, Not Ranked
4. Mitchell Mariners, Not Ranked
5. Tufts Jumbos, Not Ranked
6. Merchant Marine Mariners, Not Ranked
I’ve been big on Cortland all year and am going to go all-in for them to capture this region’s entry into the final eight. The Red Dragons earned their 35th overall State University of New York Athletic Conference baseball title over the weekend with a pair of impressive come-from-behind wins over Oswego. The team hits, pitches and plays defense at a high level and features Scott Giordano, who hit .434 with 19 extra-base hits and was the conference player of the year in 2019 (and should have won it again this season).
Collegeville, Minnesota Region
1. St. Thomas (MN), Rank 23
2. Texas-Dallas, Not Ranked
3. York (PA), Not Ranked
4. Pacific (OR), Not Ranked
5. Chapman, Rank 17
6. Scranton, Not Ranked
Someone from the NCAA must really want St. Thomas to end their final D-III season with a bang as they received an at-large entry into the national tournament over North Central (who really should be playing in a region). A No. 1 seed will play relatively close to home and will face a relatively light group in their region. Perennial power Chapman is in this sextet of schools, but they’re revamped and inexperienced compared to their 2019 title team. I anticipate the pitching-strong Tommies to move on but could be talked into picking the Panthers.
Decatur, Illinois Region
1. Washington University in St. Louis, Rank 1
2. Webster, Rank 2
3. Denison Big Red, Not Ranked
4. Millikin Big Blue, Not Ranked
5. Transylvania Pioneers, Not Ranked
6. Illinois College Blueboys, Not Ranked
This region features the top-two teams in D-III and the pair already traded wins earlier in the year. While Washington won two of the three games played previously, I’m going to go with the Gorloks to advance. Webster was my preseason No. 1 team and I’m going to stick with them to start and end the year as the No. 1 team.
Hartford, Connecticut Region
1. Southern Maine Huskies, Ranked 7
2. Oswego State, Rank 23
3. Wheaton (MA), Rank 25
4. Salve Regina Seahawks, Not Ranked
5. Husson Eagles, Not Ranked
6. Johnson & Wales Wildcats, Not Ranked
Southern Maine started the season 10-6, but went 21-3 to close the season which included a bottom of the ninth improbable comeback in the Little East Conference tournament title game. USM was my No. 2 pick in the preseason so I obviously am big on their chances to advance. I think they move on from this group with ease.
High Point, North Carolina Region Hosted
1. Salisbury, Rank 3
2. Washington & Jefferson Presidents, Rank 16
3. LaGrange Panthers, Rank 18
4. Lynchburg Hornets, Not Ranked
5. Birmingham-Southern Panthers, Not Ranked
6. Marymount (VA) Saints, Not Ranked
Salisbury has put together a remarkable season against strong competition and ended the regular season as Perfect Game’s No. 3 team in the rankings. Washington & Jefferson also has an incredible record at 36-1, but faced nowhere near the level of play as the Seagulls. I’m apt to say Salisbury wins this region in a landslide, but I also recall that it wasn’t too long ago W&J was a win away from winning the national title. Nevertheless, I’m picking Salisbury to head to Cedar Rapids.
Marietta, Ohio Region
1. Rowan Profs, Rank 8
2. Marietta Pioneers, Rank 5
3. North Carolina Wesleyan Battling Bishops, Rank 15
4. St. John Fisher Cardinals, Not Ranked
5. Rochester Yellowjackets, Not Ranked
6. Penn State-Behrend Lions, Not Ranked
I underestimated Marietta in the preseason and may have overcompensated for that by moving them into the top-five this week, but I really like the cut of their jib. They have a core of talented batters who create problems for opposition on the basepaths. Turner Hill, who is batting .454 with 28 stolen bases and only eight strikeouts in 174 at-bats could be D-III’s toughest out. A Rowan or North Carolina Wesleyan win wouldn’t surprise me, but I think Marietta wins this region – especially considering they are the host.
St. Paul, Minnesota Region
1. Trinity (TX) Tigers, Rank 6
2. Aurora Spartans, Rank 12
3. Misericordia Cougars, Not Ranked
4. Northwestern-St. Paul Eagles, Not Ranked
5. Saint Mary’s (MN) Cardinals, Not Ranked
6. Johns Hopkins Blue Jays, Rank 13
I think Johns Hopkins is criminally underseeded in the sixth position and would like their chances to win a handful of regions – probably not this one however. That makes Trinity’s road to a regional crown more difficult as they will have to face them in the opening round. The Tigers spent the entire season in the top-10 and should emerge from this group. The only thing that makes me hesitate in choosing them outright to advance is that they’re being forced to play far away from their home. That long trip north could give Aurora the overall edge. They only lost six games all season and two were to top-ranked Washington, one was in extra innings and another was by a single run despite leaving 11 runners on base. I’m picking the Tigers, but I’m fully prepared to see another team emerge from this competitive group.
Whitewater, Wisconsin Region
1. Adrian Bulldogs, Rank 13
2. Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks, Rank 4
3. Texas Lutheran Bulldogs, 11
4. Penn State Harrisburg Nittany Lions, Not Ranked
5. Luther Norse, Not Ranked
6. Salem State Vikings, Not Ranked
Aside from one week when they were sixth, I’ve had Wisconsin Whitewater in my personal top-five the entire season. The Warhawks once again have one of top-hitting teams in the nation as they enter the tournament with a ridiculous .370 average. They also have a dominating starting pitching staff with three starters who have sub-2.00 ERAs. Both Bulldog teams are excellent, but I don’t see either usurping this dominating UWW team, especially on their home field.
|7||10||Southern Maine Huskies||ME||31-9||2-1|
|9||9||Cortland State Red Dragons||NY||27-6||2-1|
|10||5||North Central Cardinals||IL||38-9||5-2|
|11||11||Texas Lutheran Bulldogs||TX||28-12||0-0|
|15||12||North Carolina Wesleyan Battling Bishops||NC||32-8||1-1|
|16||16||Washington & Jefferson Presidents||PA||36-1||0-0|
|19||19||Johns Hopkins Blue Jays||MD||3-Nov||0-0|
|20||20||St. Thomas Tommies||MN||29-7||0-0|
|21||21||Eastern Connecticut State Warriors||CT||32-6||1-2|
|23||23||Oswego State Lakers||NY||24-5||1-2|
|25||25||St. Thomas Bobcats||FL||34-21||1-2|