The 2015 Division II baseball season got underway this past weekend, and although there were no big surprises in the results, we did see that a few teams appear to already be on top of their game.
There were some gaudy numbers put up down south to open the year. #1 Tampa rolled Bentley 5-1, 13-5, 15-2. They will face Georgia College in a three-game set this weekend. The big match-up will come in the weekend after, when defending champion Southern Indiana comes to town.
The season started off with a bang for St. Leo, who took on Tusculum in a three-game series. They played one of the first games in the entire country on Friday, and smacked eight home runs to rout Tusculum, 22-6. They followed that with 4-2 and 11-4 wins on the ensuing days. St. Leo is constantly one of the fringe regional teams, and would probably be a top seed in the regional most years if they were in any other conference in the country. They're off to a good start to hopefully cement themselves in the tournament this year.
Harding started their year with a 22-0 shelling of Augustana (S.D.) where they collected eight doubles. In the second game of the double-header, they throw up a 1-0 win, with the only run scoring in the bottom of the eighth of a seven-inning game on a wild pitch. Ah, baseball.
The most impressive series of the weekend may have been Armstrong Atlantic thoroughly dominating Salem International, 15-2, 10-0 and 20-0. Armstrong is another one of those fringe regional teams that needs to rack up non-conference wins, especially against the teams they are expected to beat. They'll most likely be 6-0 before they play USC Aiken next weekend, after they take on Emmanuel this weekend. Those confidence-building games might lead to the 5-8 game improvement they need to get in to the regional tournament, provided they can keep that offense rolling.
Of course, the biggest series of the opening weekend was #4 Mt. Olive taking on #18 Lander. A match-up of top 20 teams, and predictably, it was split. Mt. Olive took the opener, 15-8, but Lander rebounded with a 7-2 win in the second game of the weekend. I doubt it will be the last time they see each other this season.
Columbus State, ranked third in the opening PG rankings, had an impressive three-game sweep of West Alabama (6-4, 5-1, 4-0), and they'll be challenging themselves again this weekend when they head to Lynn for a three-game series.
#6 Southern Arkansas suffered a little bit of a shocker in their season-opener, falling 6-2 to Lindenwood, but they came back with 5-3 and 7-6 (11) wins. I'm sure it isn't quite what the Muleriders were looking for, as Lindenwood is not a good team at this point. A missed opportunity for SAU to open the year.
#13 Florida Southern and West Florida got together for an impressive non-conference series, and it was West Florida who might have moved themselves in to this week's rankings. The Argos won 4-3 and 3-2 before the third game was cancelled. UWF dominated on the mound, holding FSC to a team batting average under .200 for the two-game series. Yes, it is early in the year, but it looks like maybe these two teams should be flipped in the rankings for right now.
#16 USC Aiken swept Lincoln Memorial (11-8, 15-5, 8-2) to begin the year, setting up my favorite series for this weekend, when #15 Trevecca Nazarene comes to town. TNU is one of my favorite sleeper teams of the year, and that series will go a long way in determining if TNU is ready for the perils of the Midwest regional tournament in their first year of eligibility.
#19 UC San Diego started off strong with a 4-0 win and 8-3 win against Western Oregon, but dropped the third game, 12-5, today. They'll finish the series on Tuesday, and UCSD is gonna need that victory if they want some cushion going in to this weekend's series with Colorado Mesa, where they could be considered a slight underdog.
Considering pre-season expectations, #20 St. Edward's may have had the most disappointing opening weekend of the year. They dropped two of three to Ouachita Baptist, dropping the bookend games 6-4 and 3-2, but winning the middle game 5-4. They should get back on track this weekend with four games against Lindenwood.
Also of note, #25 Catawba took on Belmont Abbey in a three-game series, picking up a 27-7 season-opening win, but splitting the final two games with a 7-5 loss and 6-0 win. They'll up their competition a little more this weekend at Carson-Newman.
Here are a couple non-conference series I'll be paying special attention to this week:
#15 (0-0) Trevecca Nazarene @ #16 (3-0) South Carolina-Aiken (2/6, 2/7, 2/8): As mentioned earlier, this will be a great early-season test for TNU to see if they will be legitimate contenders in their first season of eligibility for the NCAA postseason and bring some legitimacy to the GMAC.
#14 (0-0) Colorado Mesa @ #19 (2-1) UC San Diego (2/6, 2/7): Mesa will be starting their season, and UCSD is gonna be trying to pick up at least one big non-conference victory after dropping a game to Western Oregon this past weekend.
#3 (3-0) Columbus State @ (1-0) Lynn: CSU will get a tough early-season test from what will most likely be a middle seed in the South regional tournament. Lynn will most likely be 2-0 going in to the game after facing Palm Beach Atlantic on Tuesday, and could use the three-game series as a vault in to the rankings.
This upcoming weekend will be the first semi-full weekend of the year for the Division II baseball world. The northern teams won't all be in action quite yet, as it can take up to the first week in March to get everyone's season openers in, but nonetheless, the train is rolling.