The NCAA will make the final announcements for selection on Monday, but with the final region rankings out we have a pretty clear picture of what the southeast regionals will look like. Heading into next weekend.
North Georgia locks itself in at the #1 position and will more than likely host the regional and super regional if they advance. Starting out the season with a rough schedule and a lot of young players the Nighthawks were a concern but by the end of the season all worries were answered and North Georgia grabbed its 4th consecutive regular season title and then went on to win the Peach Belt tournament. Easily one of the hottest teams in the nation North Georgia will be tough to beat by any of the Southeast teams and looks to be a clear favorite heading into the tournament.
Carson Newman was able to jump up to the #2 spot after winning the SAC title and finishing on and 11-1 streak after being swept at Coker. One of the keys for Carson-Newman success has been the emergence of the pitching staff lead by the freshman arm of Lacie Rinus who is one of the top arms in the Southeast. Carson Newman should be hosting the other regional as they do have the support structure to host this event. This is an extremely young team with only 1 senior and claiming a regional victory is tough. However even if Carson-Newman doesn’t come out on top this season bodes well for a strong Eagles team in the future.
Armstrong State who has been right in the fight to host falls to the #2 spot falling to Flagler in a hard fought semifinals of the Peach Belt. In the #3 spot it looks like they will head up to Carson-Newman for the regional round. While they may not sit at #2 it does not mean they will not play like it. The Pirates bring back a lot of World Series experience from last season and have a lot of homerun power in their lineup. They will be a tough out in the regional and with this being the last season of Armstrong State softball ever this team will be more motivated than ever before.
The #4 team is Limestone and a little bit of a surprise to us. While Limestone is one of the tougher teams with experienced hitters and pitching staff they did not when their conference or the conference tournament and excited before the championship game. While they have more losses in the region that fellow conference member Pfeiffer their strength of schedule has catapulted them up to the #4 spot. By playing multiple PBC teams and tougher SAC teams including a sweep over Lenoir-Rhyne brings them in at the #4 spot.
Not quite ending the season as they had hoped brings Lenoir-Rhyne in at the #5 spot and a chance of revenge for a regular season sweep by Limestone in the #4 vs. #5 matchup in likely the North Georgia bracket. Lenoir-Rhyne has one of the most talented squads across the board in the southeast but inconsistency has plagued the Bears all season. No example is better than the conference tournament where they needed two walk offs in their winnings before losing two 1 run games to champion Carson-Newman and runner up Coker. If the Bears can stay on top they can get to Limestone but the firepower of North Georgia may be too much in the second round matchup.
Young Harris may be at the #6 spot but when looking at the Regional RPI the Mountain Lions team is considered the third best team in the southeast one spot above #3 Armstrong State. Loaded up on a crazy tough schedule Young Harris overachieved and had an amazing season even with 12 loses. Young Harris made a run in the PBC tournament after dominating home team Georgia College 9-3 before giving North Georgia everything they could handle in a 4-5 loss where North Georgia scored the winning run in the bottom of the 7th on a Mountain Lion error. Looking to pair up with #3 seed Armstrong State this will be a replay of the regular season series which Armstrong State swept in the beginning of the season. But this isn’t the same team that they were in early March.
Pfeiffer keeps in the tournament at the #7 spot and were in danger of falling out after falling to North Greenville in the Conference Carolinas tournament. The Falcons post the best record in the Southeast with only 6 losses however posting one of the weaker schedules their strength of schedule keeps them down in the computer rankings. Being ranked by the NCAA Boyce Rankings at #3 the NCAA rankings at #8 nationally second best in the region the Regional Rankings take them down all the way to 7 in a interesting move. This sets up an interesting matchup with #2 Carson-Newman in the first game, not much of a reward for the Eagles. The Falcons will surprise some teams but need the bats to come alive. In their two tournament losses they were shutout by Erskine and North Greenville and even crazier all 6 losses on the season they were shutout. Facing a tough Lacie Rinus in Carson-Newman the Falcons bats must be in attack mode if they want an upset or another shutout loss could be in the future for Pfeiffer.
North Greenville will come in at the #8 spot thanks to the winning of the Carolinas Conference title and an automatic bid. Their award is a first round matchup with North Georgia. But don’t overlook this team that upset the world. Their pitching staff who shutout fellow conference regional participant Pfeiffer and allowed only 1 run to Limestone.
With the win North Greenville will push the 8th ranked Flagler team out of the tournament and give the CC their first ever 3 team regional in the softball tournament matching the number of participants from the PBC. Flagler made a run to the PBC tournament championship and fell to North Georgia in the Championship game. Coker in the SAC also came up just short from claiming a trip to the tournament coming in at #10 in the regional rankings and falling to Carson-Newman in the SAC title game.