Special to The Sun
Central Oklahoma is expected to be a top contender for the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association softball title this season, with the first-year member Bronchos picked second in the pre-season poll released Wednesday.
UCO received three first-place votes and finished with 177 points in balloting of the league’s 15 head coaches to come in second behind defending champion Emporia State. The Hornets collected 12 first-place votes and had 194 points.
Missouri Western was just a point behind the Bronchos in third place, with Fort Hays State coming in fourth and Pittsburg State fifth.
UCO played as a Division II independent last season and beat ESU in the South Central Regional One finals before going on to defeat Angelo State in the South Central Super Regional en route to advancing to the Division II World Series.
The Bronchos have back six players — including four everyday starters and one of their top pitchers — from that 46-9 team, which finished No. 2 in the final rankings. Several impact newcomers are expected to also play a big role on this year’s team.
“We’re excited to be a part of the MIAA and look forward to the challenge,” said 16th-year head coach Genny Stidham, the winningest coach in school history with a 424-278-2 record. “There’s a lot of great teams in the conference and we know we’ll have to be ready to play every time we take the field.”
UCO opens the season Feb. 8-10 at the Whitten Inn Classic in Abilene, Texas. The Bronchos don’t make their home debut until hosting Southern Nazarene for a March 5 doubleheader.
Broncho baseball ranked 4th
Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association baseball newcomer Central Oklahoma has been tabbed for a fourth-place finish in 2013, according to the pre-season poll announced by the league office Wednesday.
The Bronchos finished with 152 points in voting of the 15 head coaches, trailing Central Missouri, Missouri Western and Emporia State.
The three-time defending champion Mules earned 14 first-place votes to take the favorite’s tag with 196 points. The Griffons had the remaining first-place vote and 175 points for second, followed by the Hornets (160), UCO (152) and Fort Hays State (136).
The Bronchos went 31-17 last season while competing as an NCAA Division II independent and return 11 players from that squad, including four position starters and their top two pitchers. A large number of newcomers are expected to have a big impact this spring.
“We’re really excited about the MIAA and the opportunity it brings our program,” said UCO head coach Dax Leone, who is 54-40 starting his third year at the helm. “Not being in a conference last year was very frustrating and even though we had a productive season, our post-season aspirations were limited at best.
“This year, we’re on the same playing field as everyone else in the country and that’s exciting.”
The Bronchos open the season with league play, going to Southwest Baptist for a three-game series Feb. 15-16. UCO makes its home debut Feb. 23 against Fort Hays State.