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Softball | General | 5/18/2022

Division II, III Playoff Preview

Jerry Miller     
Photo: Perfect Game
While the NCAA Division-I schools are prepping to play the opening round of the playoffs, the Division-II and Division-III programs are heading into Super Regional competition this weekend. Sixteen sites in both levels have been selected and those venues will each host a best-of-three series. The winners of the Supers will head to their respective National Championships.
 
The NCAA Division-II National Championships will be held May 26-31 at the Regency Athletic Complex in Denver, Colorado. The Moyer Sports Complex in Salem, Virginia, will host the Division-III Nationals beginning May 26.
 
Division-II Super Regionals
 
There are no pretenders left. Only the best D-II programs remain in what promises to be a highly competitive and emotional weekend of play. The nation’s four top-ranked teams, the University of Texas-Tyler, Texas A&M-Kingsville, Auburn University-Montgomery, and Rogers State (Okla.) are all still in contention for the coveted National Championship trophy. Of those four, only one is assured of advancing.
 
Tyler, Texas will be the scene for what many may say is the de-facto national title series as the No. 1 ranked UT-Tyler Patriots (45-6) will play host to the No. 2 ranked Texas A&M-Kingsville Javelinas (49-10). Tyler, in only their third year of D-II ball, has run roughshod over the competition this spring. Longtime Head Coach Mike Reed has his club in a sound position to challenge for the national championship. Standing in the way of UT-Tyler and their quest for a D-II National Championship are the Javelinas from TAMU-K. Coach Craig Nicholson, in just a few short years, has taken this once struggling program to the doorstep of national prominence. This series, at least on paper, could go down to the last out, of the last inning, of the third and deciding game.
 
No. 3 Auburn-Montgomery (46-10) will welcome the Blazers from Valdosta State (37-12). The Valdosta nine are ranked No. 12 in the country and will present all kinds of challenges to the homestanding and hard hitting Warhawks in another series that could go down to the wire. Under Head Coach Eric Newell, the AU-M program has transitioned from the NAIA ranks in just a few short years, to become a national fixture at the top of the D-II rankings. Meanwhile, at Valdosta State, all head Coach Thomas Macera has done in 16 years at the helm is build a rock solid program that seemingly is always in the national conversation. Along the way, Coach Macera has become the winningest active coach in the nation at the D-II level.
 
The No. 8 ranked Bronchos (YES, the “h” is supposed to be there) of the University of Central Oklahoma (48-11) will make a short trip northeast to Claremore, Okla. to tangle with the country’s No. 4 ranked Rogers State Hillcats (51-10). Under 7th year Head Coach Andrea Vaughan, the all-time wins leader at RSU, the Hillcats have made a steady climb into the upper echelon of D-II competition. Cody White, in his ninth season as head coach at UCO, has posted 300+ wins, and has guided the Bronchos to seven NCAA playoff appearances. UCO handed Rogers two of their losses in April when the clubs squared off in Edmond during the regular season. This match-up between neighboring schools promises to be one of the best on the weekend.
 
The Screaming Eagles of Southern Indiana University (47-11), the No. 10 ranked team in the country, will welcome the 21st ranked Grand Valley State (MI) Lakers (43-6) to Evansville, Ind. this weekend. The GVSU program from Allendale, Mich. will make the trip south carrying a great deal of momentum coming off their exciting Regional victory. The Screaming Eagles have been outstanding all spring, especially at home. SIU, under the direction of veteran Head Coach Sue Kunkle (21st year) has been to the playoffs six of the past seven years and has the 2018 NCAA National Championship trophy in their team room. Dana Callihan, in her 8th year as head coach at GVSU, has posted over 260 wins. Her program has dominated conference play and she is looking to take the Lakers to the Nationals for the second year in a row.
 
Out west, two solid programs will tangle for the right to advance to Denver. Cal State – San Marcos (44-12), ranked 11th in the country, will welcome the Toros from Cal State – Dominguez Hills (39-20). In just her third year as head coach at San Marcos, Stef Ewing has turned the CSUSM program into a national power. At CSUDH, Head Coach Jim Maier, in his 16th season, has built a strong and fundamentally sound program that is the envy of many on the West Coast. The CSUSM Cougars, after getting upset in the first game of the Regionals, swept through the bracket, taking two from Sonoma State to advance. Dominguez Hills beat Concordia in the “if” game to advance to this in-state Super Regional.
 
Picturesque Dahlonega, Georgia will see No. 18 North Georgia (45-15) hosting the Lady Railsplitters from Lincoln Memorial University. LMU, out of Harrogate, Tenn., upset Anderson (S.C.) on the road last week to advance. LMU has the unenviable task of taking on legendary UNG coach Mike Davenport and the Nighthawks. North Georgia, the 2015 National Champions, have been to six NCAA National Championships, including last spring. Highly respected veteran coach Ritchie Richardson, in his sixth year at LMU, has turned the Lady Railsplitters into one of the nation’s top programs. The owner of over 1,000 career wins, Richardson has LMU on the cusp of a National Championship berth.
 
No. 20 Kutztown State (40-13) out of Kutztown, Pa. will host in-state rival Seton Hill (39-10). The Griffins from SHU swept through the Shippensburg Regional to advance, while the Golden Bears of KSU took care of business at home last weekend. In her 35th year at the helm of the Golden Bears, Judy Lawes has KSU in the NCAA playoffs for the 20th time. She, like the aforementioned Coach Richardson from LMU, has over 1,000 career wins. In just her fourth season guiding the Griffins, Head Coach Jessica Strong has turned the SHU program into one that is nationally recognized and respected. This series could be the most competitive of the weekend.
 
Garden City, New York and Adelphi University (45-12) will play host to the Wildcats from Wilmington (Del.) University (37-18). The 22nd ranked AU Panthers, led by Head Coach Carla Campagna in her fourth year, have been consistent all spring and have played their best when the games meant the most. The upstart ‘Cats from WU traveled to New Jersey last weekend and played three of their best games of the spring to advance. The winningest coach in Wilmington history, Mike Shehorn, in his ninth year at the helm, has guided the Wildcats to the NCAA playoffs for the sixth time. A lot of talented players and outstanding coaching will be on display this weekend in New York.
 
Division-III Super Regionals
 
Not unlike Division-II, the D-III Super Regionals are loaded with outstanding programs. Any team advancing to Salem and the National Championship tournament will have certainly earned their ticket. The Division-III Super Regionals will see 12 of the nation’s Top 25 ranked clubs, including the top-five. There are numerous matchups between highly-touted programs, so the competition should be fierce.

Top-ranked Christopher Newport (40-1) has earned their much deserved spot at the top of the D-III softball world. They have been almost flawless this spring. Coach Keith Parr, in his 20th season in Newport, has guided the Captains to 14 straight NCAA tournaments while amassing over 600 career wins. His club will host the 2021 National Champions, and currently the No. 9 ranked Virgina Wesleyan Marlins (36-11) this weekend. Brandon Elliott has taken the program from Virginia Beach to 10 straight tournaments, while posting 500+ victories. This intense in-state matchup should be a tight, exciting, well-played, hard fought battle all the way.
 
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (33-14) from Worcester, Mass. will host the tradition-rich Jumbos from Tufts University (35-10). The WPI Engineers, led by first-year coach Heather Ross, who came to the program after a very successful run at D-III Lesley, has her club on the cusp of trip to the Championships. Tufts, which calls Medford, Mass. home, is coached by one of their own. Lauren Ebstein is in her fourth year at the helm of the Jumbos, following a long stint as an assistant. She has posted over a .700 winning percentage and looks to return Tufts to the championship circle, hoping to add to the National Championship trophies from 2014 and 2015.
 
The Yellow Jackets from Randolph-Macon (35-9) will travel from Ashland, Va. to Mansfield, Conn. to take on No. 3 ranked Eastern Connecticut State University (41-5). The 16th ranked Jackets, under the tutelage of Head Coach Keith Proffitt in his fourth year, last made the trip to the NCAAs in 2019. Coach Proffitt has posted over 400 career wins and has Randolph-Macon primed for a trip to the championship round. The winningest coach in ECSU history, Diana Pepin, has won over 500 games and has the Warriors back in contention for a National Championship again, as her club is making their ninth NCAA appearance in the past 14 years.
 
In one of the more unique setups in college softball, Whitney Sowers and Katie Tenboer are co-head coaches at Millikin University (35-7). The pair has done outstanding work in teaming together to make MU a national presence in fastpitch. The Big Blue, making their third trip to the playoffs, will see the No. 25 ranked Wartburg Knights (30-12) make the drive from Waverly, Iowa to Decatur, Ill. for their Super Regional matchup. The Knights, coached by seven-year veteran Jamie Mueller, are making their second trip in the past three years to the tournament.
 
The No. 4 ranked Salisbury Seagulls (39-6) have brought exciting softball to southern Maryland this spring. SU, coached by former Seagulls All-American Lacey Lord in her first year, are set to welcome Mount St. Joseph (34-10) from Cincinnati. The Lions, under veteran skipper Beth Goderwis in her 20th season on the banks of the Ohio River, has MSJ on the brink of the National Championship yet again. Last season they were knocked out at the Super Regional level. They appear on a mission this spring.
 
There is something really special happening at Bethel University (37-5) in Arden Hills, Minn. this spring. The 12th ranked Royals, coached by Penny Foore in her 7th season, have not only posted their best record ever, but they are also playing in their first NCAA tournament. They won their Regional last weekend and earned the right to continue their historic season. Bethel has the unenviable task of traveling to Mount Berry, Ga. to take on the No. 10 ranked Berry Vikings (32-11). Emily Stanley has been a part of the Berry program since 2014 and was named head coach in 2020. She guided her club, which was seeded fourth in their Regional last weekend, to some clutch victories this season. The Vikings not only secured the chance to play in the Super Regionals, but to they get to stay home.
 
Two top-ranked clubs will meet up in Seguin, Texas this weekend and this matchup could be epic. The nation’s No. 2 ranked Texas Lutheran Bulldogs (41-4) are talented and singularly focused. They have been playing with one goal in mind all season. The 2019 champions, the ‘Dogs finished the 2021 season a few outs short in the championship finals, dropping a three game heart-breaker to Virginia Wesleyan. They are playing with a certain focus that championship teams do at the time of the year. Head Coach Wade Wilson (378-77) in his 11th year at the helm of TLU knows the task at hand won’t be a cakewalk. A very talented No. 5 ranked Belhaven Blazers club (41-6) will make the trip over from Jackson, Miss. with one thought in mind...knocking off the Bulldogs, celebrating on the TLU field, and going to Salem. Veteran coach Kevin Griffin, in his 12th year at Belhaven, is certain to have his team ready to play. This will be a series worthy of the price of admission.
 
The 20th ranked Trine Thunder (30-11) from Angola, Ind., under the guidance of veteran head coach Donnie Danklefsen in his 18th year at the helm of his alma mater, is making their 13th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. To say the Thunder are a force in D-III softball would be an understatement. They have dominated fastpitch in this region for years and look set on making another trip to the National Championships. They will certainly be challenged this weekend when the No. 25 ranked Case Western Reserve Spartans (30-10) make the trip west. Head Coach Josie Henry, in her 12th season in Cleveland, has steadily built a fundamentally sound program that can match up with any team. This series should be fun to watch as both teams appear evenly matched.
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