NAIA Opening Round Picks

Bellevue Bracket

Teams: Bellevue, Doane, Oklahoma City, Grand View

The top seeded and host Bellevue has played Oklahoma City twice already this season and won both contests. However those games were back in early February, and the Stars have been much better the second half of the season. OCU was an unimpressive 16-16 at the start of April, but finished 14-3 with series wins over SAGU and Science and Arts as well as swept through the Sooner Athletic Conference in which they scored over 12 runs per game. 

Despite Doane’s campus being about 80 minutes away from Bellevue, the Tigers and the Bruins didn’t tangle in the regular season. Doane has tied their school record for wins with a solid offense and has two high quality starting pitchers. If they can hold off the Stars in the opening round they should match up well against Bellevue.

While the Bruins had a strong out of conference schedule, their opposition in the North Star Athletic Association has allowed them to coast since the second week of March following their win over top ranked SEU.

While Bellevue is likely the best team of the group overall, I’m going to pick Doane either or OCU to advance out of this region as they’ve been the hotter teams down the stretch with more impactful games. In a surprise pick I’m going with OCU. Their duo of Tyler Polk and Eli Davis, two pitchers who previously threw in the Big 12, propels them to the upset region win. 

Fayette Bracket

Teams: Southeastern, Kansas Wesleyan, Central Methodist, Madonna, St. Franics

Southeastern has been the number one team all season with a monster offense that is slashing .358/.461/.643 with 124 stolen bases and a pitching staff that has a 2.73  ERA and is holding opposition to a .210 batting averaging while striking out 634 batters in 459 innings. Going all in on SEU on this one despite the Fire being forced to play far from home.

Hattiesburg Bracket

Teams: William Carey, Texas Wesleyan, Ave Maria, Union, Houston-Victoria

Of the five teams in the bracket, only Willam Carey has spent the entire season in the Perfect Game rankings, and Texas Wesleyan is the only other team of the five which has been in the Top 25 at all this spring. The Crusaders are the home team for the region and haven’t had to travel away since April 23rd as their final regular season series and the SSAC Tournament were played on their home field. I like Willam Carey to win the bracket but be tested by the Rams.

Kingsport Bracket

Teams: Webber International, Missouri Baptist, Bryan (TN), Indiana Wesleyan

This four team bracket is one of the most evenly distributed in terms of talent and no matter who wins it won’t be a shock. Even fourth seeded Indiana Wesleyan has proven they can play with the best of the best as they earned wins over Georgia Gwinnett and Cumberland to start the year. Webber had a win over top ranked SEU, but also had three mercy rule losses to the Fire so they can be both very, very good as well as very, very beatable. Bryan wasn’t ranked at any point during the season, but had some very big wins throughout the season and advanced to the AAC Tournament Championship. Of the four I believe they played the best schedule to prepare for the postseason. I was admittedly late to stamp Missouri Baptist as legit despite a secret affinity for the American Midwest Conference and still have reservations despite them having one of the top winning percentages nationally. I just don’t trust their pitching depth.

I really want to make IWU my dark horse and pick them to win the region, but seeing how they went 10-7 to finish the year I can’t make them my pick. I’ll take Bryan as an upset to advance instead.

Lawrenceville Bracket

Teams: Georgia Gwinnett, Freed-Hardeman, Concordia (NE), Midway, St. Xavier

The Grizzlies have been in my top three all reason long and spent the bulk of the year as my number two team pick in the NAIA. The only knock against them is that they haven’t played a competitive game in over a month – only twice since April 1st has a team been within five runs of their final score. GGC to advance to Lewiston once again.

Lewiston Bracket

Teams: Hope International, Science and Arts, Concordia (MI), Lewis-Clark State

This is probably my pick as the weakest opening round bracket overall. Science and Arts are good, but a step down from previous years. Concordia is an absolute enigma. They have a 46-8 record, but also a strength of schedule in the bottom five percent of NAIA teams. Lewis-Clark State is only in the tournament because they are the host institution for the NAIA World Series.  They deserve credit for playing SEU, LSU Shreveport and three other Sun Conference to start the season, but underperformed in the Cascade Conference where they finished fourth out of seven in the regular season standings and went 1-2 in the tournament. Their talent level is much better than that – very much better.   

Hope International has been a top ten team the entire season. It is their region to lose. Hector Garcia is one of the NAIA’s top pitchers. He has a 1.93 ERA and 87 strikeouts in only 51 ⅓ innings while only allowing 27 hits. Wow.

Santa Barbara Bracket

Teams: Westmont, Benedictine-Mesa (AZ), Vanguard, British Columbia, Antelope Valley

The Santa Barbara bracket is balanced with three teams in the Perfect Game Top 25, and two very underrated teams nationally in British Columbia and Antelope Valley.  It’s another region where no matter who wins the group it won’t be a shock. 

The home field advantage is huge for Westmont as they are a much better 25-3 than they are on the road at 12-5; however it was UAV who gave them one of those losses. 

Not feeling great about any of these teams, but going to go with Benedictine Mesa. I like their trio of Dylan Bangs, Orlando Lorduy and Kevin Fitzgerald to create runs and fluster pitchers.  Bangs is bating .431 with 18 doubles, seven triples and nine home runs. Lourduy’s .414 is second on the team and he also has 18 doubles and nine home run along with 20 stolen bases. Fitzgerald has a .413 average, 17 doubles, six triples and five home runs.

Shreveport Bracket

Teams: LSU Shreveport, McPherson, Morningside, MidAmerica Nazarene (KS), Dillard

LSU Shreveport had two unexpected losses in the Red River Athletic Conference Tournament, but prior to that they had won 25 games in a row and have clobbered opposition all year long. They’ve spent all but one week in the top five of the Perfect Game NAIA rankings, while McPherson’s current placement at 19th is their season best and Morningside only made a cameo at 25 two weeks ago.  This is the Pilot’s bracket to lose. I see their stumble in the RRAC tournament as a wake-up call and reminder that there is still work to be done. LSUS easily wins and advances.

Upland Bracket:

Teams: Tennessee Wesleyan, Taylor, Cumberland, Point Park, Fisher

Like LSU Shreveport, Tennessee Wesleyan has been a mainstay in the top five of the rankings, but stumbled in their conference tournament. I don’t foresee them having trouble with any of the other schools in this region, but wouldn’t be shocked to see Cumberland give them a scare with their prolific offense that has four sluggers with at least 16 home runs. Actually, just to make it interesting, I’m going to take Cumberland over the Bulldogs in this one. The two teams split two games during the regular season (although TWU won one of them 26-4). The Phoenix offense has overshadowed the fact that the team has some really good pitchers as well. Trevor Muzzi is limiting opposition to a .208 batting average and Mitch Rogers has 71 strikeouts in only 52 ⅓ innings in a dual role.

Williamsport Bracket:

Teams: Cumberlands, Mobile, Columbia, Reinhardt

Absolutely positively going with Cumberlands in this bracket. They’ve been in my top four all season long with a 48-6 record. They are hitting over .350 as a team with tons of power at the plate. They’ll have eight players with double-digit home runs by the time they arrive in Lewiston, with two players, Max Harper and Charlie Muniz, who are both hitting over .400 with 20+ home runs. Their pitching staff is excellent as well. Few players can match Knicko Billings’s 0.99 WHIP over 67 innings or in coolness of a name.

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