Division II Postseason Preview

The road to Cary, N.C., is set to begin this morning with 48 teams competing in eight regional tournaments with hopes of advancing to the 45th-annual NCAA Division II Championship. Regional play will last through May 21 with the opening round of the World Series beginning May 26 at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.

South Regional at Tampa, Fla.
Host: Tampa
Seeding: No. 1 Tampa, No. 2 Delta State, No. 3 Lynn, No. 4 West Florida, No. 5 Nova Southeastern, No. 6 Alabama-Huntsville, No. 7 North Alabama, No. 8 Stillman.?

Nationally top-ranked Tampa (38-8) will host the South Region after winning the Sunshine State Conference. Pitching is the Spartans strength, as the team ranked third among all Division II schools with a 2.45 ERA and first with 2.1 walks per nine innings. They are led by a pair of southpaws—senior Sean Bierman and junior Ben O’Shea. Bierman transferred from Vanderbilt in 2010 and redshirted last year after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. He is 8-2, 1.93 with 82 strikeouts and 10 walks in 79 innings pitched this season. The six-foot-six O’Shea was a 10th round pick out of Santa Fe College by the White Sox in the 2011 Draft and features an 88-92 mph fastball. This season, he is 7-1, 2.30 ERA with 69 strikeouts and 11 walks in a team-high 90 innings pitched for UT. Tampa will open regional play against Stillman (29-16), which led the country by hitting .364 as a team.??

The South Region has produced four of the last six national champions and is the only region with eight teams. It includes three conference champions: Tampa (Sunshine State), Delta (Gulf South) and Stillman (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic). Delta State (40-12) enters regional play with plenty of momentum after capturing a record 12th Gulf South Conference title in a 14-8 victory of Alabama-Huntsville a week ago. Its resume includes wins over nationally ranked North Alabama and West Florida, the latter of which won the 2011 D-II national championship. Lynn (36-13) finished second in the SSC behind Tampa despite winning two of the three regular season matchups. The 2009 national champion Fighting Knights are led by senior first baseman Anthony Boza (.406/.473/.731), who won SSC player of the year honors, as well as senior righthander Shawn Kale (5-0, 2.64) and junior righthander Ryan Gibbard (6-2, 3.24).??

Southeast Regional at Mount Olive, N.C.
Host: Mount Olive
Seeding: No. 1 Mount Olive, No. 2 Tusculum, No. 3 Armstrong Atlantic State, No. 4 Francis Marion, No. 5 Catawba, No. 6 Lander.

Mount Olive (44-8) will host the Southeast Regional for the fourth time in the last six years. After winning their third straight Conference Carolinas championship, the Trojans enter as winners of 37 of their last 41 games. The 2008 national champions hope to return to Cary–just an hour and a half away from campus—after tying for third place in last year’s World Series. The Trojans have the country’s most potent offense, averaging almost 11 runs per game. They are led by junior catcher Geno Escalante (.435/.502/.662), who led the all of D-II with 94 hits, and senior third baseman Jacob Rogers (.398/.534/.737). Escalante has hit safely in all but one game this season and is currently riding a 44-game hit streak—the fifth longest in D-II history. The record belongs to Nick Diyorio, who hit safely in 49-games in 2005 for Florida Southern. Escalante is also tied for second in D-II with 70 RBIs.

All six teams in the Southeast Regional finished the regular season ranked in the top 30 of the Collegiate Baseball Poll. Mount Olive isn’t the only team in the region capable of scoring a lot of runs. Tusculum (46-8) led the nation with a 0.852 winning percentage, which is on pace to break single-season school and league records. The Pioneers offense has been a driving force behind their success, as they rank second in the nation in runs scored. Senior outfielder Alexi Colon slugged 19 home runs, scored 65 runs and leads the nation with 64 walks while serving as Tusculum’s cleanup hitter. Senior righthander Craig Goodman is a finalist for the Tino Martinez award, which goes to the best player in D-II. Goodman was the Southern Athletic Conference pitcher of the year this season after going 10-0, 2.09 with 80 strikeouts and 22 walks in 86 innings.

Armstrong Atlantic State will square off against Francis Marion (37-16) in a rematch of the Peach Belt Conference tournament semifinals. Armstrong righthander Ethan Bader, whose big body (6-7, 220 pounds) intrigues scouts as a draft-eligible sophomore, pitched a complete game four-hitter while striking out 10 in a 5-1 victory over Francis Marion. FMU makes its fourth consecutive trip to regional play. Senior outfielder Buddy Sosnoskie (.388/.440/.537) is one of D-II’s top prospects. He began his career at Virginia Tech and slugged 13 home runs for the Hokies in 2010. He has solid all-around tools and has been a leader of the resurgent Patriots program.

South Central Regional at Warrensburg, Mo.
Host: Central Missouri
Seeding: No. 1 Central Missouri, No. 2 St. Mary’s (Texas), No. 3 Angelo State, No. 4 Southern Arkansas, No. 5 Texas A&M-Kingsville, No. 6 St. Edward’s.

Central Missouri (44-7) returns to the tournament for the 18th consecutive season and coach Tommy Myers tries for his fourth regional title in five years with the Mules. CMU last won the national championship in 2003 and has reason to be optimistic about a shot at another one. Emphasizing a small-ball strategy, Myers’ squad led the nation in sacrifice bunts. The Mules are ranked in the top 10 in batting average (.332), ERA (2.26) and fielding percentage (.972). Senior lefthander Lee Stoppelman has enjoyed a breakout season, going 9-0, 1.26 with 81 strikeouts and 11 walks in 72 innings. He is followed in the rotation by sophomore righthander Kurtis Schuyler (9-2, 2.20).

Plenty of scouts are sure to be in attendance when CMU takes on St. Edward’s (Texas) in its opening game. St. Edward’s features the draft’s best college prospect outside of Division I, junior righthander Stephen Johnson (1-1, 1.35). Projected to go as early as the second round, Johnson has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and has topped out at 101 mph. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder has pitched only in relief this season, notching a D-II leading 16 saves while striking out 63 in 36 innings.

Quality pitching should be plentiful in the South Central Regional. St. Mary’s (Texas) owns the nation’s lowest team ERA at 2.18. Sophomore lefthander Rene Solis (12-2, 1.50) has limited opposing hitters to a .179 average for the Rattlers. Junior righthander Carl O’Neal (12-0, 1.86) converted from catcher two years ago and will be among D-II’s first prospects selected in the draft.

East Regional at Manchester, N.H.
Host: Southern New Hampshire
Seeding: No. 1 Southern New Hampshire, No. 2 Le Moyne, No. 3 Franklin Pierce, No. 4 Saint Anselm, No. 5 Wilmington (Del.), No. 6 Dowling.

After spending the last three weeks ranked first in the East Region, Southern New Hampshire (38-12) earns their first trip to a NCAA tournament in the program’s 47-year history. Under coach Scott Loiseau, SNHU was put on the map this year after crushing the school’s single-season school record 25 wins set in 2011—and he’s done it by building around pitching. SNHU’s staff ranks second in the nation in ERA (2.23) and first in strikeout-per-nine ratio (9.4). Junior lefthander Tim Flight (7-1, 1.17 with 116 strikeouts and 31 walks in 85 innings), senior righthander Brad Monroe (8-3, 2.13) and sophomore righthander Junior Mendez (5-2, 1.22) have been dominant for the Penmen.

Le Moyne (40-13-1) is in its first season at the D-II level. It spent the previous four seasons competing in Division I as an independent after losing its status as an associate member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in 2007. The Dolphins’ pitching staff ranks seventh in D-II with a 2.84 ERA and is led by 6-foot-5 righthander Casey Cannon, whose 1.15 ERA is the second lowest in the country. Franklin Pierce (36-17-1) is looking to advance to Cary for the fifth time in the last seven years. The Griffins are the tournament’s most aggressive team on the bases—swiping close to three bags a game. Sophomore first baseman Zach Mathieu (.388/.446/.712) was named National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association East Region player of the year.

St. Anselm senior John Healy is a 6-foot-4 lefthander who went 8-1, 1.05 with 91 strikeouts and 18 walks in 85 innings. His ERA is the lowest in the country. 

Central Regional at Mankato, Minn.
Host: Minnesota State-Mankato
Seeding: No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato, No. 2 St. Cloud State, No. 3 Colorado Mesa, No. 4 New Mexico Highlands, No. 5 Winona State, No. 6 Regis (Colo.).

Back again for their 31st appearance in the regionals is Minnesota State-Mankato (44-10), which won both the regular season and postseason Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championships. The Mavericks beat St. Cloud State (45-12) twice in high-scoring affairs at the NSIC championship last week. Coach Matt Magers was awarded Central Region coach of the year for the second consecutive season. Mankato has won with pitching and defense; its .978 fielding percentage top all D-II teams. The team averages just 6.5 runs per game, but but is led on the mound by junior righthander Harvey Martin (10-0, 2.50) and senior righthander Ben Kincaid (6-3, 2.74). Mavericks junior outfielder Mike Eckhart (.401/.456/.662) was named conference tournament MVP after going 12-25 with two home runs in six games.

St. Cloud State is back in the Central Regional for the third consecutive year. The fourth-best run scoring team in the nation is led by sophomore outfielder Garrett Fischer (.398/.453/.573) and junior outfielder Phil Imholte (.378/.518/.500). Junior southpaw Shawn Riesgraf went 9-1, 1.83 in 64 innings. As a whole, the Huskies pitching staff limited opposing hitters to a .236 batting average.

Midwest Regional at Ypsilanti, Mich.
Host: Wayne State (Mich.)
Seeding: No. 1 Indianapolis, No. 2 Grand Valley State, No. 3 Wayne State (Mich.), No. 4 Northern Kentucky, No. 5 Rockhurst, No. 6 Lewis.

Indianapolis (42-14) makes its 13th D-II tournament appearance, including the past eight under longtime coach Gary Vaught. The Greyhounds received excellent starting pitching en route to their first Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament championship since 2001. On May 12, junior Phil Wheeler (3-2, 2.84) threw a no-hitter against Rockhurst in the GLVC semifinals. As a whole, Indianapolis’ staff ranks seventh in the country with a 2.91 ERA—led by senior righthanders Donovan Drake (7-2, 1.59) and JaVaun West (7-0, 2.10). Getting on base is the offense’s motto, as the team reaches base safely at a .411 clip.

Grand Valley State (41-14) picked up its seventh Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship in nine years. The second-seeded Lakers will be making their 11st straight appearance in the national tournament. Under coach Steve Lyon, GVSU has won 40 or more games seven times since 2003. For Lyon, this will mark his last postseason appearance as he will be retiring after the season. Freshman outfielder Mike Nadratowski has emerged as one of the best all-around players in the country, hitting .418/.493/.469 with 20 steals for the Lakers. Nadratowski picked up five hits in the GLIAC Championship win over Wayne State.

Atlantic Regional at West Lawn, Pa.
Host: Kutztown
Seeding: No. 1 Seton Hill, No. 2 West Chester, No. 3 Kutztown, No. 4 Mercyhurst, No. 5 Shepherd, No. 6 Winston Salem State.

For the first time in school history, Seton Hill (44-9) will be the top-seed in a NCAA tournament. This will be the third straight appearance in postseason play for the Griffins. Offensively, SHU is ranked ninth in D-II with 416 runs scored—much attributed to a team .429 on-base percentage and .518 slugging percentage. The Griffins are led by freshman infielder Nick Sell (.393/.494/.703), who is also a finalist for the Tino Martinez award. The Griffins pitching staff lead the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with a 3.61 ERA. Sophomores Brad Schnelle (8-0, 2.58) and Alex Haines (7-1, 4.25) anchor the rotation. Haines leads all of D-II with 14.38 strikeouts per nine innings.

West Chester (38-10) is making its 11th appearance in the tournament. Before failing to qualify last year, the Golden Rams had made eight straight appearances. The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament champions knocked off Kutztown in the title game 10-0, but split the regular season series with five wins each. Senior Joe Wendle (.401/.488/.790) ranks sixth in D-II in slugging and also swiped 10 bases for WCU. He also struck out the fewest of any qualified hitter by averaging just one strikeout every 41.8 at-bats.

Shepherd senior first baseman Nathan Minnich ranks first in D-II in slugging (1.000) and on-base percentage (.649) and second in batting average (.493), home runs (21) and RBIs (70).

West Regional at Keizer, Ore.
Host: Western Oregon
Seeding: No. 1 Western Oregon, No. 2 Dixie State, No. 3 UC-San Diego, No. 4 Cal State Chico.

Western Oregon rattled off their 11th straight Great Northwestern Athletic Conference championship by going 29-. The Wolves (40-9) have qualified for the West Regional in four of their past five seasons and enter as the No. 1 seed for the first time since 2006. Junior shortstop Blake Miller (.412/.482/.663) leads the team in batting average, runs, hits and triples. Senior Grady Wood, 2011 GNAC pitcher of the year, ranks ninth in D-II with a 1.30 ERA and has limited hitters to a .166 average in 90 innings.