And then there were eight. The 2023 DII baseball championship is heading to North Carolina for a week of baseball that will conclude with the next national champion. Time for the Sunshine State Conference who has won more World Series than any other conference in D-2 sports and the Rollins Tars are representative this season having been great 2023 season that paid off by getting them to Cary, North Carolina.
Six of the super regionals were pretty easy to decide as Millersville, Southern New Hampshire, UIndy, Rollins, North Greenville, Angelo State and Cal State San Bernardino all swept their way to Cary. The field is stacked with familiar faces as four of the teams are the same as last year (North Greenville, Angelo State, Rollins and Southern New Hampshire) with a pair of former national champions still alive.
And yes, I got only half the field correct. Not my best season, but that means more of the unexpected and hopefully great baseball is on its way.
8 for Cary: What to know
Rollins. Guess who’s back? Back again? Rollins swept Barry to reach Cary for a second consecutive year. The Tars find another gear in the postseason and are now 5-1 in the 2023 tournament. They have also scored at least seven runs in each victory, so you’ll have to keep up if you are the opposing lineup. Last year, despite losing the first game in Cary, the Tars made a run to the semifinals before falling to Point Loma. Do they have that deep run in the tank this year? You’d be foolish to think they don’t as this team just keeps on winning huge games.
Millersville. The Marauders are heading back to Cary for the first time since their 2016 national runner-up campaign. The super regional against Seton Hill was a matchup of two of the best pitching staffs in DII baseball, and the Marauders seemingly didn’t care, piling up 20 runs in two games. This is the fourth trip to Cary for Millersville, and the third since 2011. It is also the first time the Marauders advanced as the host seed in both the regionals and super regionals. Not to sound like a broken record, but Bren Taylor, who went 5 for 9 in the super-regional sweep, has been amazing all year and earned Atlantic Region player of the year honors.
Augustana (SD). The Vikings are no strangers to Cary, heading back to the DII baseball mecca for the first time since their national championship run in 2018. It is just the program’s second trip, so they are looking for the same magic from four tourneys ago when they entered the field of eight as the No. 5 seed. The Vikings and Mavericks were one of just two super regionals that went the distance, and Augustana had to win the final two games in a row to advance. Nick Banowetz had a big series, going 6 for 16, while red-hot Jack Hines has now picked up at least one hit in each NCAA tournament game thus far.
Southern New Hampshire. This is the Penmen’s third straight trip to Cary and the fourth time in the past five tournaments. They are now 41-24 all-time in the NCAA tournament and certainly have made a good habit of heading to North Carolina. However, one interesting note is that the Penmen haven’t won in Cary since their semifinals run back in 2018, getting bumped in two straight games in each of the past two seasons. Jeffrey Praml (11-3, 2.41 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) and Frankie Sanchez (7-1, 2.73 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 64 strikeouts in 59.1 innings), the likely Game 1 and 2 starters, will have a large say in changing that trend.
UIndy. The Greyhounds are heading to Cary for the third time in program history, but it’s the first trip in more than a decade. And what a way to do it. They had to defeat nationally ranked Illinois Springfield in the first game of the regionals and then beat top-five Quincy in the super regionals. What a series it was for UIndy’s Brandon DeWitt. He picked up the complete-game victory in the first win over Quincy, striking out 10 in the process, and then went 2 for 4 in the second game while making the game-winning catch in centerfield. That’s the story for the Greyhounds: versatility. Let’s not forget, this is the same team that had Brady Ware hit for a cycle while throwing a no-hitter.
Angelo State. Like Southern New Hampshire, the Rams are back in Cary for a third straight year. Last year, the two Cary stalwarts faced off in the opening round of the finals, a game won by Angelo State 7-4. It would be fun to see them meet again and form a bit of a postseason rivalry as two DII baseball powerhouses. Angelo State has arguably the best offense in the field (statistically speaking) and defeated Colorado Mesa’s mighty offense in a two-game sweep by a combined score of 14-2. That’s mainly because, as I have said all along, this may be the best pitching the Rams have had in their recent dominance of the South Central. That makes them a strong contender for their first title.
North Greenville. The Crusaders are looking to be the first repeat DII baseball national champions since Tampa did it in 2006-07. Keep in mind, North Greenville has never lost in Cary, sweeping through its four games to the title last year. Per usual, the Crusaders’ bullpen came up big and will be a tremendous asset in the long days and sometimes brutal heat that takes its toll on pitchers in Cary. Catcher John Michael Faile, who now owns the all-time DII home run and RBI marks, had an absolute monster of a super regional, going 5 for 9 with four home runs, six runs scored and nine RBI. Think he wants to add a second ring to his already ridiculous resume? He’s also one of six Crusaders with at least 11 home runs on the season, so pitchers beware.
Cal State San Bernardino. The Coyotes are the newbies of the bunch, as the lone team making its DII baseball finals debut. And I underestimated this team all year long, primarily because I didn’t know if the pitching would hold up down the stretch. What we learned is that it doesn’t matter because this lineup just keeps piling up runs. The Coyotes’ games have all been high-scoring thrillers, winning by scores of 8-7, 10-9, 11-2, 8-6 and 14-8. Giovanni Del Negro (.387, 14 doubles, 13 home runs) leads an offense that has four players with double-digit home runs and four players with 54-plus RBI. This offense can come at you from all spots of the lineup.