Shawnee and Seminole State graduate Dax Leone has resurrected the UCO baseball program and has the Bronchos close to a conference title.
EDMOND – It’s taken four years, but Shawnee native Dax Leone finally has the UCO baseball program right where he wants it.
The Bronchos have won seven of their last nine and sit at 32-11 on the season, 25-11 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association standings. UCO has six regular season games left, including four against Central Missouri. A four-game sweep of UCM would give the Bronchos their first outright conference title since 2007.
“It should be a good weekend and a fun atmosphere,” Leone said by phone Monday. “If we play some clean baseball, we like our chances. The MIAA is the most prestigious conference in the country.”
The Bronchos have improved from 24-23 in Leone’s first season in 2011, to winning 30 games for the third straight season this year.
“I was hired in July 2010 so we the first year we had no chance to recruit. This is the first year we’ve had all of our own guys.”
UCO’s strength is in its offense, led by MIAA player of the year candidate Phillip Wilson. The senior from Cushing is batting .455 on the season with 13 home runs, 44 RBIs and 10 stolen bases, leading the team in most offensive categories.
Right behind Wilson is Matt Johnson, who had 12 home runs and leads the team with 45 RBIs while batting .382.
“We’ve had a pretty good year offensively,” Leone said. “We’ve overachieved with our pitching. We lost two starters before the season started. Ricky Reeves and Jared Sterling have really stabilized our rotation.”
Reeves is 8-1 in 10 starts this season, posting an ERA of 1.46 and averaging nearly a strikeout per inning. Sterling is 6-2 with a 2.31 ERA and has two shutouts.
And then there’s Wilson again who, when he’s not leading the team in hitting, is making appearances on the hill as the Bronchos’ closer. Wilson has eight saves and a 1.04 ERA in 14 relief appearances, with 22 strikeouts in 26 innings of work.
After graduating from SHS in 1996, Leone stayed local, starring at Seminole State for two years before moving on to the University of Texas, where he played under the legendary Augie Garrido. Leone had dreams of playing professionally before an elbow injury in his senior season led him into the coaching ranks.
“I finished my degree at East Central and ended up becoming a graduate assistant there.”
Leone said. Various stops in his coaching career have included stints at St. Gregory’s, Seminole State, Louisiana-Monroe and Oklahoma State before landing in Edmond in the summer of 2010.
Now he has the Bronchos on the verge of returning to glory, as they try to win a regular season conference title for the first time in nearly a decade before taking part in the conference tournament beginning on May 2.