EDMOND – Ashleigh Tramel’s grand slam helped stake Central Oklahoma to an early and the No. 21-ranked Bronchos survived some anxious moments before turning back Emporia State 10-6 to capture the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Post-season Tournament championship Sunday afternoon at cold and windy Broncho Field.
Tramel’s long drive capped a six-run outburst in the top of the first inning that put UCO in quick control, but the Hornets scored three runs in their first at bat and trailed just 7-6 after five innings before the Bronchos put the game away with a three-run sixth-inning volley.
It was the eighth straight win – and 17th in 18 outings – for UCO, which improved to 47-9 on the season, the second-most wins in school history. The win gave the Bronchos a sweep of the league regular season and tournament titles and was their first MIAA Tournament crown since joining the league in 2013.
UCO earned the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Division II national tournament, with that 64-team field set to be announced May 8. The Bronchos will compete in one of two four-team Central Regional Tournaments, which will be May 12-14 at sites to be determined.
“That was a great win for us and I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” head coach Cody White said. “It was tough playing out there today with the wind and cold, but we got off to a good start and that really helped us. Emporia fought hard and had me nervous the whole game. We didn’t help ourselves with some of our defensive mistakes, but we made enough plays to win the game.”
The first two days of the tournament were held at ASA Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City before heavy rain Friday night and Saturday made that facility unplayable, resulting in the finals being moved to UCO’s new artificial turf field.
The Bronchos wasted little time in taking charge against ESU, which entered the tournament as the No. 8 seed in the eight-team field and rebounded from a 3-0 first-round loss to UCO to win four straight games in making the finals.
Morgan Heard and Carrie Abrams opened the game with back-to-back singles and both advanced on a passed ball before Tori Collet’s one-out bloop single to left field scored Heard. Carli Jones followed with an RBI single to left-center and Brooke Zukerman walked to load the bases for Tramel.
The senior designated player cleared them with a no-doubt bomb, depositing a 2-2 pitch over the fence in straightaway center field for her fourth homer of the season.
“I got a good pitch to hit and put a great swing on it,” Tramel said. “It felt good to get off to such a great start.”
The Hornets bounced back in the bottom of the first, scoring three runs on two hits and two UCO errors – the first two miscues of the tournament for the Bronchos.
Heard got a run back in the top of the second when the junior standout slugged her league-leading 14th homer of the season, this one a lead-off solo shot to left field.
It stayed 7-3 until the fifth when ESU pushed across three runs on three hits and two walks to make it a one-run game.
UCO got breathing room in the sixth and Tramel had another key hit. Zukerman – who batted a team-high .545 in the tournament – started things with an infield single and stole second before scoring on Tramel’s line-drive double to right-center field.
One out later it was Lexi Watson’s turn to go deep and the senior sprinted around the bases after belting her third homer of the year off the scoreboard in left-center to up the lead to 10-6.
The Hornets tried to threaten in the bottom of the seventh after leading off with consecutive singles, but Heard speared a hard-line line drive at shortstop and doubled a runner off first to get two quick outs before Jayden Chestnut ended the game with a strikeout.
Heard went 3-for-4 and Tramel 2-for-3 with five RBI to lead a 10-hit attack.
Jayden Chestnut went the distance in the pitching circle to pick up her 15th straight win, improving to 22-3. The sophomore right-hander gave up nine hits and two walks while striking out four.