An absurdly early look at the 2024 DII softball championship finals (2024)

The 2024 DII softball season has begun. The odd staggered start of the season means some highly-ranked teams haven't even seen the field yet, but the defending national champion North Georgia Nighthawks aren't one of them. The Nighthawks are off to an impressive 7-1 start and look very much like a contender to repeat.

Can they make it to Longwood, FL, for the 2024 DII softball championship final eight? That is impossible to answer, or even guess, just two weeks into the season.

But that is exactly what I am going to do.

HISTORY:Here are the DII softball programs with the most national championships

The way-too-early predictions for the 2024 DII softball final eight

An absurdly early look at the 2024 DII softball championship finals (1)

Atlantic: West Chester.I know, I am going off the grid a bit here with a team not even nationally ranked. And I saw East Stroudsburg's Paige Zigmund pitch in Chattanooga last year — she's one of the best pitchers in the country, is back in the circle, and can certainly help the Warriors get back to the finals. However, let's not forget it wasn't long ago that West Chester dominated the Atlantic Region with three straight trips to the finals (2018-19, 2021). This team returns its top five hitters and top three pitchers from a year ago and seems poised to sneak up on a loaded PSAC and make some noise.

Central: Oklahoma Baptist.Looking at the early record, I can see where some disagree. But the other teams I was looking at — Central Oklahoma and Augustana (SD) — are also off to shaky starts. Rogers State and Southern Arkansas, two more contenders, are off to hot starts but haven't played too many teams with a winning record. The Central is deep and these teams tend to beat up on each other (Oklahoma Baptist and Central Oklahoma have already split two games). So, why did I go with Oklahoma Baptist? That returning squad from a 44-win team is deep and it seems like they have what it takes to right the ship. The lineup has its top six hitters and plenty of pitching back, including Kayleigh Jones who pitched to a 31-7 record behind 0.78 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 315 strikeouts a year ago.

East: Wilmington (DE).If you've followed my softball coverage for any amount of time, you know I often pick the Wildcats to make it to the final eight. They have built a young program that made it to the Super Regionals in 2022 and broke through last year to make it to the finals. And guess what? Almost that entire team is back. The Wildcats return their topninehitters from a year ago, including Lexi Moore and Taylor Gillis, each of whom hit over .400. Kylee Gunkel, Brooke Koehler, and Delani Sheehan all return in the circle, and all three pitched to excellent numbers last year. This team is loaded, and a repeat trip to the finals is in their grasp.

Midwest: Grand Valley State.Going back over the past five tournaments, the Midwest Region has been split between these Lakers or Southern Indiana. Being that Southern Indiana moved to Division I, this is really the Lakers region to lose. Now, the Lakers have quite a bit to replace. In the circle, perennial GLIAC and national pitcher-of-the-year candidate Hannah Beatus is gone, but the three other pitchers — including Ashley Platek who had 14 complete games in 15 starts — that made appearances do return. The lineup was gutted of star power as well but has a few returning to make it dangerous. The Lakers have built a Midwest powerhouse, and those types of programs reload, not rebuild.

South: Saint Leo.The South is an incredibly tough region to make it out of; just look at these facts. Both Nova Southeastern and Tampa are in the preseason top 10. Tampa is 175-51 over the past five seasons — a pretty cool .774 winning percentage — and a perennial pick in the top 25; however, the Spartans haven't won South Region over that span. The Sharks won it last year and they too have history against them: Over that same five-year span, not a single team has won the South twice (although let it be said I do like the Sharks' chances to do so). That's why I'm digging outside the top-10 teams and going with Saint Leo. The Lions lose a bit of their top hitters but return the entire pitching staff that pitched to a 43-12 record, 1.10 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 443 strikeouts last year, and that includes Kayla Betts who is a strong pitcher-of-the-year candidate.

South Central: UT Tyler.It was close, because West Texas A&M looks good once again and the Buffs have been one of the most dominant DII softball programs of the last decade. But they also lost quite a bit, including one of the Lone Star's all-time great sluggers in Ruby Salzman. The Patriots have just been flat-out great in their three full seasons as a DII program. They have won 144 games since 2021 — a whopping 87 percent of their games — and made it to Chattanooga last year on a 62-win season. The top five hitters from that lineup are back. Now, where the Patriots got decimated was in the circle, where they lost their two aces. However, freshman Crimson Bryant and graduate transfer Genesis Armendariz have looked unstoppable in the early going and could fill the void quite easily.

Southeast: North Georgia.There has not been a repeat DII softball champion since Cal (Pa) pulled it off in 1997-98. What there has been plenty of repeating of is the Southeast Region. The defending champions have been to the final eight in three consecutive seasons, and with what the Nighthawks returned, a fourth is not out of the question. Sophie Mooney and Sydney Blair — both of whom hit above .400 last year — lead a veteran lineup and all five pitchers (including two-way star Mooney) that pitched to a 1.95 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 64 wins (including the all-important last one of the 2023 season) are back in the circle. This team plowed through its opening weekend tournament by a total score of 38-7 and looks really good already.

West: Cal State San Marcos.Let's stay within that five-year sample size I've been using. The West Region has seen a different winner in each of those five seasons and why I have often referred to it as the Wild West. So why am I going with the Cougars to break that trend and make a repeat performance in the final eight? Simple: experience. This team was led to Chattanooga by six everyday players in the lineup that hit above .300... and five of them are back. Savannah Coyle and Jayline Sloss were a dangerous 1-2 punch in the circle, and both are back as well. History is against them, but the Cougars have what it takes to get back.

An absurdly early look at the 2024 DII softball championship finals (2024)
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