By Jim Dixon
It is a brand new world in D-III Baseball. Eight-team regionals are a thing of the past. Four-team regionals in the coming week and super regionals in the next is now the new look of NCAA D-III playoff baseball.
If we look back a few years to Cal Lutheran's run to a national title, they did it with three starting pitchers instead of the four or five usually needed. We will see more teams trying to win a walnut and bronze trophy with just three starters as you only need three wins per weekend until the championship round. Even then it can be done with a starting trio as the Kingsmen showed in 2017.
The NCAA committee has as much experience as our mock committee having to split the field into smaller regionals. In the D3baseball.com prediction our group tried to put together what has slowly become a national tournament. The actual playoff pairing were given a more regional feel. The NCAA committed to only two flights (if a team is more than 500 miles from the regional, the NCAA will fly the team instead of putting them on a bus) so far but will need at least two more once the regionals have finished.
Every year since they started handing out conference bids, the Division III College World Series has seen a rookie team in the championship round. This year could be no different as the likes of Birmingham-Southern, Denison and LaGrange are in the field and have yet to make the D-III College World Series.
|The Trinity Bantams missed their conference postseason but still made the NCAA postseason with an at-large bid.
Trinity (Conn.) athletics photo by David B Newman
New England Super Regional
at Southern Maine: 1. Southern Maine, 2. Oswego State, 3. MIT, 4. New England College
at Mass-Boston: 1. Mass-Boston, 2. Wheaton (Mass.), 3. St. Joseph's (Maine), 4. Baruch
Southern Maine and Mass-Boston winners meet in super regional.
Best matchup: Wheaton (Mass.) and St. Joseph's (Maine) have flown under the radar this seasons but have plenty of playoff experience for their coaching staffs. Lyons head coach Eric Podbelski and Monks head coach Will Sanborn had their teams regularly in the playoff from as far back as a decade ago but recently the chances at a national title have not come as often. Coming into their regional with the prospect of facing UMass-Boston in the second game, both coaches know how important it is to stay out of the elimination round.
What to watch: New England College and Baruch are coming in with little playoff experience. Having never have appeared in the NCAA playoffs, how will they handle the environment, how will they will match up with the top seed in each regional. An upset is always a possibility but history tells us regional rookies are usually the first to go home.
Most likely to surprise: MIT could be the surprise here. The Engineers see quality teams in the NEWMAC and have played well in their conference tournament with wins over Wheaton (Mass.) and Babson. If it was not for a walk-off grand slam by Babson, MIT would be coming off a sweep of their conference rivals. In the regular season MIT had tough sledding against top competition but it looks like they have turned things around and are peaking at just the right time.
Most likely to disappoint: Wheaton (Mass.) is just two years from their last appearance in the College World Series and much of the team will remember their trip to Appleton. The Lyons are coming into the regional with four losses in their last six games, where the other three teams in the regional are all playing their best baseball of the season.
Who will win: It is hard to bet against either top seed. Southern Maine's longest losing streak numbers one game this season so it will be hard to put two losses on the Huskies. Their opponent in the super regional should be UMass-Boston who have been playing very well of late, winning 15 of their last 16 games.
New York Super Regional
at Trinity (Conn.)
1. Babson, 2. Trinity (Conn.), 3. Salve Regina, 4. Keystone
1. Cortland, 2. Penn State-Harrisburg, 3. Tufts, 4. Alvernia
Best matchup: Cortland vs. Alvernia. There will be plenty of experience in the coaching staff of each team. Both Joe Brown and Yogi Lutz have been around for decades and have put together consistent winners. Brown's Red Dragons have been in the playoffs every year this decade and Lutz's Golden Wolves have missed just two regionals. A win will be essential to making it to the super regional since it does not get any easier when you have to face Tufts or Penn State Harrisburg in their second game.
What to watch: It is odd to see Keystone as a fourth place seed. Never having missed the playoffs since they became eligible, the 2019 version of the Giants are a bit of an unknown. With the better half of the CSAC bolting and forming a new conference, Keystone has not had the type of competition they are accustomed to seeing. Will comng out a weak conference hurt the Giants? We will see but one thing I do not have to watch for is that is the NCAA gave Babson a tough first-round matchup.
Most likely to surprise: Penn State Harrisburg earned their at-large spot and were off the boards early in the process. Bret Williams was the catalyst for the Nittany Lions as they were just one game from eliminating Salisbury and Christopher Newport in consecutive weekends. With their second playoff bid in their history, you would expect them to make an early exit but they are 3-0 against three Mid-Atlantic teams in the playoffs and have been playing at a high level against the best in the South as well.
Most likely to disappoint: In the preseason Cortland was a Top 10 team with three first place nods only to see a slide take then out of the Top 25 mid-season. A perfect run through the SUNYAC regular season has them back in the rankings but have had some trouble with the best teams in D-III. They showed that this might be a thing of the past in their second place run in the conference tournament but we will see if Cortland disappoints or disappoint the fans of the other teams in their regional.
Who will win: Babson is our pick in the Babson regional but it gets harder when looking at the other regional in this grouping. It is a toss-up in the Cortland Regional as all four teams have the potential to win three games this weekend. It could very well be the third seeded Tufts that gets a date with Babson.
|Senior Tyler Peck has been a mainstay in the Panther starting rotation with 131 strikeouts in 92.2 innings in the 2019 season.
Chapman athletics photo
West Super Regional
at Chapman: Chapman vs. Whitman
at Texas Lutheran: 1. Trinity (Texas), 2. Texas Lutheran, 3. Concordia (Texas), 4. Franklin
Best matchup: Texas Lutheran and Concordia (Texas). The Bulldogs gave the Tornados a loss more than a month ago but it was a staff day for both teams. The Tornados and Bulldogs were intent on saving their best pitchers for conference games than trying to win the game. The regional game will not see 19 pitchers toeing the rubber but the ace of each staff will be out there for the win. Give the edge to Texas Lutheran since Nathan Malinovsky has found his All-American form again this year.
What to watch: Franklin needs two more wins for its second 30-win season. This is a team that brought back a lot of the talent from their record setting 2018 team. The core of the team has regional experience and could very well get those two wins. A third win and a trip to the super regional will be a more difficult goal to achieve.
Most likely to surprise: Whitman is our surprise pick. Nothing brings a team together faster than getting away from the distractions of home and playing a series where they are the consensus underdog. If the Blues can get an early start and steal a win, the plane flight they take coming out of the L.A. area will be not be back to the Northwest but Texas.
Most likely to disappoint: Concordia (Texas) is a curious pick for this category, having won 13 of 14 games but most of these wins comes against the bottom half of the ASC. The competition they will face this weekend is the best of the west and it does not help the Tornados that they have to open with the hometown Bulldogs.
Who will win: Chapman should win their series and will welcome the top SCAC team that comes out of the Seguin Regional.
Central Super Regional
at Washington U.: 1. Washington U., 2. Coe, 3. Aurora, 4. Cornell
at Birmingham-Southern: Birmingham-Southern vs. LaGrange
Best matchup: Birmingham-Southern vs. LaGrange is the best matchup in this super regional cluster. LaGrange is just over two hours away and there will be plenty of fan support for both teams. There is some familiarity between the two teams as they see each other every year. For much of the past few years, Birmingham-Southern has had the upper hand but 2019 was different as LaGrange took two of three from their South rival in February. I can guarantee on thing, the Panthers will make it out of this two team regional.
What to watch: Coe received a friendly draw with Aurora, or did they? The Kohawks did not impress the D3baseball.com committee as we left them off our predicted field. Good thing for Coe that the NCAA is making the at-large selections. A successful run for Coe will start with a win over Aurora and prove that a 100-plus SOS and few opponents in the regional rankings is not as important we thought.
Most likely to surprise: Aurora. The Spartans are out to prove that they belong on the national stage again and nothing will elevate their status faster than a regional win. They proved that they can play with the best, knocking the No. 1 team in the nation off the winners podium.
Most likely to disappoint: Cornell. The excitement of a Midwest win could quickly change to a 0-BBQ. They only have to face one of the best pitching staffs in recent memory, and then play a pretty good second or third seed.
Who will win: Washington University should get out of the St. Louis Regional and welcome the winner of the Birmingham Regional.
|Senior Jose Mercardo has stolen 82 bases over last two years for the Concordia-Chicago Cougars.
Concordia-Chicago athletics photo
Midwest Super Regional
at UW-Whitewater: 1. Webster, 2. UW-Whitewater, 3. North Central (Ill.), 4. Bethany Lutheran
at Concordia-Chicago: 1. Concordia-Chicago, 2. Baldwin Wallace, 3. St. John's, 4. Buena Vista
Best matchup: The key to the Whitewater regional is the UW-Whitewater and North Central contest. Both teams are perennial winners and the winner will be our team to advance. If our crystal ball is still giving us real facts, we see the homestanding Warhawks coming out winners in this contest and the regional as well.
What to watch: We left Baldwin-Wallace off our playoff list, or more accurately, we had them in but a Concordia-Chicago loss bumped them to the 17th playoff slot when only 16 were available. Finishing the year with four consecutive losses was not the way the Yellow Jackets wanted to end their season and adding two more would sour what could have been. Will will be watching to see which team we get, the one unable to secure a win or the team that never lost an OAC series this season. Knowing head coach Brian Harrison, it will be the latter.
Most likely to surprise: Buena Vista is playing with house money. As a second seed in the American Rivers Conference, it should not shock anyone to see them win the ARC playoff bid but coming in to play one of the best programs in the nation is a high bar to cross. If they can keep Jose Mercado off the bases and control the game with their pitching, the Beavers might go from spoilers to winners.
Most likely to disappoint: Webster will need to do two things to avoid disappointment in the Whitewater regional. They need to take care of business with a Bethany Lutheran team that nearly upset Concordia-Chicago in the opener of the regional last year, and then put together a second win to get out of the winners bracket unscathed.
Who will win: Home cooking will be key in this one as both hosting teams should come out as winners of their respective regionals.
Mideast Super Regional
at Wooster: 1. Wooster, 2. Case Western Reserve, 3. Otterbein, 4. Rochester
at Adrian: 1. Denison, 2. Heidelberg, 3. Adrian, 4. La Roche
Best matchup: All four opening games are worth the price of admission. I am looking forward to Case Western and Otterbein. Case went 2-0 against the OAC, with a 7-2 win over Baldwin-Wallace and a 8-1 win over Heidelberg. Two weeks ago Otterbein was in danger of hanging up their spikes for the season. Instead they made the conference tournament as the final seed and made the most of their opportunity and will be a tough contest for Case. The coaches made sure that the team was ready, putting together the fourth toughest schedule this season.
What to watch: Will we see the outsider come to the Mideast super regional and take home the prize? If we do it will be Rochester. Over the past few years the NCAA stresses moving teams out of region and to our surprise, the field this year has fewer than expected teams moved out of their home region. Last year's champion, Texas-Tyler, came not from the west but the central regional and we will be watching to see if the Jackets can pull off this feat themselves.
Most likely to surprise: This is looking like Denson's year but they have one of the toughest regionals to get through to continue their season. If there is a team to do take down the top seed, it is Heidelberg. The Student Princes did not shy from a difficult season and was as successful against top competition as any team in the nation.
Most likely to disappoint: It has been too long since Adrian has made it out of a regional. As a third seed, it might seem that their chances are less than 50/50 but as neither of the top seeds asked to host, the Bulldogs get to play on their home field.
Who will win: Top ranked Denison and Wooster are our predictions to battle for a spot in the College World Series.
|Ithaca has had a lot of reasons to celebrate in its 2019 season so far.
Ithaca athletics photo by Sarnevitz photography
Mid-Atlantic Super Regional
at Kean: 1. Ithaca, 2. Kean, 3. Shenandoah, 4. Westfield State
at Johns Hopkins: 1. TCNJ, 2. Johns Hopkins, 3. Farmingdale State, 4. Susquehanna
Best matchup: Kean and Shenandoah is as even as it gets. Both teams have the regional experience that is so important in these games and both had long win streaks late to get top seeds in their conference tournaments. While not in the national conversation both head coaches have their teams in position to get back to the College World Series.
What to watch: Westfield State could be a potential roadblock for Ithaca, especially if the Bombers try to look past the Owls. In the MASCAC tournament, John Gegetskas's no-hitter reminded us that sometimes lightning hits and one player can make an out-sized contribution. It might not be Westfield State or Susquehana but the opening day upset is out there.
Most likely to surprise: Farmingdale State. The path for success for the Rams seems unlikely as they have to defeat Johns Hopkins on their home field and then defeat a very solid TCNJ baseball team. An upset here and a lucky bounce there and suddenly we could be looking at Farmingdale State on the verge of a regional win.
Most likely to disappoint: Kean has had an outstanding year but Ithaca is having a season to remember. Back in the playoffs after a two year absence, the Cougars are looking to take the first step to another World Series appearance. Anything but a date with the Baltimore regional winner will be disappointing to the Kean faithful.
Who will win: We expect Ithaca to give head coach George Valesente another regional win and a date in the super regional with TCNJ.
South Super Regional
at Salisbury: 1. Rowan, 2. Salisbury, 3. Washington & Jefferson, 4. Penn State-Abington
at Christopher Newport: Christopher Newport vs. Misericordia
Best matchup: The best matchup will come if Salisbury and Rowan both win but no guarantees so Salisbury and Washington and Jefferson makes the best opening day game. While W&J knew well before selection day they were playoff bound, there had to be some confidence in the Salisbury locker room that the Sea Gulls had done enough to secure a playoff spot, a feeling that was confirmed in the NCAA selection show.
What to watch: The scores coming from the Newport News regional. The Christopher Newport Captains and the Misericordia Cougars are scoring a combined 20 runs a game. Don't expect to see many 2-0 or 3-1 scores coming out of Newport News.
Most likely to surprise: Misericordia was a rookie participant in the final College World Series in the last held in Appleton and would like to be there as a veteran to welcome the series in Cedar Rapids. If the pitching holds out and the offense can score like they have all season long, we could see Misericordia two wins from a second consecutive World Series appearance.
Most likely to disappoint: Salisbury's last two series losses came at the hands of Christopher Newport and Penn State-Harrisburg that bookended a long winning streak against the rest of the CAC. They will have to do better than their 7-6-1 record against regionally ranked opponents if they want to play longer then this weekend.
Who will win: Rowan will match up with Christopher Newport