Today begins the final leg of the quest to the 2017 NCAA Division II Baseball National Championship. Day one of competition gets under way in Grand Prairie, Texas, at the home of the Texas AirHogs. A new champion will be crowned a week from today.
The schedule begins with a pair of games on the docket. The opening game of the tournament will be Atlantic-champion West Chester (40-11) taking on Southeast champion North Georgia (46-10) in what should be a high-scoring affair at 4 p.m. Eastern.
After that, Central-champion Lindenwood (39-18) takes the field against South champion, and prohibitive favorite, Delta State (44-11) at approximately 7 p.m. Eastern.
2017 NCAA Division II Baseball Finals Tournament Page
West Chester (40-11, 22-6 PSAC) vs North Georgia (46-10, 19-5 PBC)
Saturday, May 27th, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
I have to think West Chester will be going with one of Mike Cipolla (8-2, 1.75 ERA), Eric Close (5-3, 2.29 ERA) or Jon Fisher (7-2, 3.25 ERA) in game one. North Georgia will counter with one of Daniel McCrary (10-1, 2.13 ERA), Steven Bower (7-3, 2.14 ERA) or Dylan Peppers (8-3, 2.84 ERA).
For The Golden Rams, it is an extremely balanced offense that has few holes for opposing pitchers to feel comfortable with. Six players have between 33 and 43 RBI this season, and there are seven players with at least three home runs this year. Shane Dressler (.384 avg, 45 R, 20 2B, 3 3B, 4 Hr, 40 RBI, .589 SLG, .462 OBP) leads the team in most categories outside of home runs (Nick Ward - 8) and RBI (again, Nick Ward - 43). Jared Melone (.355 avg, 48 R, 7 HR, 39 RBI) had some big hits in the regional tournament, while Nick Bateman (.370 avg, 30 R, 12 2B, 4 3B, 41 RBI) doesn't like walking (5 walks this season), but also likes collecting extra bases.
We could talk all day about the offense for the Nighthawks of UNG. Connor Hoover (.358 avg, 74 R, 16 2B, 5 3B, 18 HR, 72 RBI, .712 SLG, .479 OBP) is an All-American caliber power hitter, while Bill Leroy (.425 avg, 37 R, 15 2B, 3 HR, 35 RBI, .506 OBP) is tough to keep off the basepaths when he puts his bat in the zone. Trevor Sams (.318 avg, 48 R, 12 2B, 12 HR, 69 RBI, .551 SLG) and Michael Bell (.303 avg, 44 R, 11 HR, 47 RBI) add even more power to the line, and the fourth member of the squad with double digit home runs, Michael Gouge (.379 avg, 69 R, 20 2B, 10 HR, 60 RBI, .631 SLG, .527 OBP), also leads the team in doubles, one of six (!) players with at least 12 doubles this year. Eight regular starters are batting over .300 this season for the Nighthawks.
UNG will score runs. They led the nation in scoring with 515 runs crossing the plate. It will be up to WCU to either hold them in check, or keep up at the plate.
Lindenwood (39-18, 24-11 MIAA) vs Delta State (44-11, 25-8 GSC)
Saturday, May 27th, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Lindenwood is one team in this field that doesn't have a clear-cut "ace", as they'll choose from Brendan Feldmann (9-3, 3.32 ERA), Andrew Eilers (7-2, 4.71 ERA), Blake Beckmann (7-4, 5.03 ERA) or Kyle Hentis (6-1, 5.43) to start each game. The Lions' strength is their closer, where Connor Law (6-1, 2.21 ERA, 28 app, 12 SV, 61 K in 57.0 IP) has been one of the best.
Delta State will most likely counter with Seth Birdson (10-1, 2.93 ERA), although Corey Beard (6-0, 4.35 ERA) and Tre Hobbs (8-4, 4.60) are also options.
When you speak of DSU's bullpen, it has to include Zach Osbon, another shut-down closer (7-1, 1.16 ERA, 24 app, 8 SV, 36 K in 38.2 IP).
Offensively, we have consistency against power in this one. Lindenwood's offense is led by speedy hitter Wes Degener (.399 avg, 54 R, 8 2B, 5 3B, 2 HR, 35 RBI, 31 BB/9 K (!), 21/27 SB) and then he is driven in by the likes of Drew Quinones (.382 avg, 46 R, 17 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 50 RBI) and Kyle Teter (.342 avg, 46 R, 13 2B, 6 3B, 7 HR, 59 RBI).
Delta State's offense lives and breathes off two gigantic bats in the middle of its lineup. Zack Shannon (.442 avg, 62 R, 11 2B, 19 HR, 88 RBI) is a national Player of the Year candidate, while Clay Casey (.346 avg, 58 R, 14 2B, 17 HR, 62 RBI) is his round-trip-smacking partner in crime. The Statesmen have seven guys who have hit at least 10 doubles, and six guys who have hit over .325 this season.
In any case, enjoy opening day of the tournament! We'll be back tomorrow with a recap of day one and a preview of day two!