Thursday, April 9, 2015

Top Two in Heartland Conference Go At It, More SSC Craziness Coming

It seems there is never an off weekend in the world of Division II baseball, as there is still a wealth of very interesting match-ups to keep your eye on this weekend, including a trio of huge ones between top 25 teams. Only one will earn our "Marquee Match-Up of the Week" honors, however, and it is a series that should put someone in the driver's seat for a regular season conference championship and the top team in the region going forward.

First, here is our pick for this weekend's "Marquee Match-Up of the Week", which will get extra coverage and an in-depth preview Friday morning:

#15 St. Edward's (27-8, 13-2 Heartland) @ #8 St. Mary's (26-7, 13-2 Heartland) (4/10 (DH), 4/11): This series is more or less for the regular season Heartland Conference championship, as both of these squads are three games clear of the rest of the field entering this weekend. They should also both be around the top three of the regional rankings if they were out right now. As long as neither team sweeps the other, I think both of these squads are safe and should still be battling it out for the conference title for the next couple weeks. The winner, however, will have an inside track going forward with not much competition left to face inside the conference.

Here are a bevy of other contests to keep track of as the weekend goes on, all of which will have either conference championship or regional tournament implications:

#16 Florida Tech (31-5, 12-4 SSC) @ #3 Nova Southeastern (30-6, 10-2 SSC) (4/10, 4/11 (DH)): The top two teams in the SSC, and probably the entire South region, go head-to-head in this battle. This should probably be the top series of the week, but it will most likely just muck up the entire SSC conference standings going forward rather than determining a favorite, if the season up to this point has been any indication. With that said, this is the series you want to keep an eye on. Both squads should comfortably be in the regional tournament barring a collapse, but this is a huge series in terms of getting the inside track for the regular season conference title.

#14 Lynn (27-8, 10-5 SSC) @ #10 Tampa (25-10, 7-5 SSC) (4/10, 4/11 (DH)): It is not often you hear this...but...Tampa needs a sweep in a bad way here to even stay in the Sunshine State Conference race. The Spartans right now are currently FIFTH in the conference standings, although they are only three games out of the lead. With that said, it is quite possible that the entire top five in the conference end up making the regional tournament, that is how strong the SSC is. With Nova Southeastern facing off with Florida Tech this weekend, the top two teams in the conference standings, it is possible that they beat each other up enough to force a 2-1 split one way or the other, which would keep the top five in a traffic jam at the top. The team that wins this particular series should be positioned nicely inside the top three of the conference standings by the end of the weekend.

California Baptist (20-14, 12-4 PacWest) @ #19 Dixie State (24-8, 19-1 PacWest) (4/9, 4/10 (DH), 4/11): So far, Dixie State is running away with the PacWest race, three games up right now on second place Point Loma. However, if California Baptist can steal a sweep away from the Red Storm, which is a tough task to expect given Dixie State having won 24 of their last 25, they would bring them back towards the field. However, if Dixie State keeps rolling, they can pretty much wrap up the race this weekend.

#24 Flagler (26-9, 13-7 PBC) @ Armstrong State (26-9, 15-5 PBC) (4/10, 4/11, 4/12): Armstrong is currently leading the Peach Belt Conference by half a game, but Flagler is only two games out. Both of these teams are probably right on the cusp of the regional rankings right now, so this is a series of paramount importance for both teams if they want the upper hand on making the regional tournament.

Cal State Monterey Bay (22-14, 18-10 CCAA) @ #18 UC San Diego (24-12, 19-8 CCAA) (4/10, 4/11 (DH), 4/12): These two teams currently hold down the third and fourth spots in the CCAA standings, although they are both well within the race. UCSD is coming off their first CCAA series loss in a long time, while CSMB has been flying under the radar pretty much all year. This is a good opportunity for either CSMB to earn some recognition, or for UCSD to rebound nicely.

Francis Marion (23-12, 11-8 PBC) @ #20 UNC Pembroke (27-9, 13-8 PBC) (4/10, 4/11, 4/12): Francis Marion is currently 3.5 games out of the top spot in the conference, while UNC-P is 2.5 out, with two teams ahead of both of these squads going against each other this weekend. Both teams are talented enough to sweep the other, which would put one of them right back in the thick of the race, but both teams also need to have good weekends to hold strong in the regional tournament race. If FMU doesn't win the series, I think they may be on the outside looking in going forward.

William Jewell (23-6, 14-4 GLVC) @ Missouri-St. Louis (15-8, 10-8 GLVC) (4/11 (DH), 4/12 (DH)): I'm not sure anyone would have picked this series as a big one in the Midwest region this late in the season, but here we are. William Jewell might be the top team in the region right now, and they have a chance to take a stranglehold of the GLVC race if they can win three or four this weekend. Right now they are one game clear of Missouri S&T in the West division, and UMSL is still in the race, currently four back, but with a solid overall record. If UMSL can pull the upset and pick up a sweep, it will really bunch things up in the conference standings, but I think William Jewell is still a safe pick for the top spot in the Midwest as long as they can get at least one game.

West Georgia (24-11, 16-8 GSC) @ Valdosta State (22-13, 13-9 GSC) (4/10 (DH), 4/11): UWG finds themselves 2.5 games back in the Gulf South Conference, while VSU's situation is a little more dire, 4.5 games out. However, both teams still have some serious regional tournament hopes, which makes this series a big one for both of them. Whoever wins the series is probably going to boot the other out of the proverbial regional tournament rankings currently, I believe.

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