LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Megan Whitmire's first-inning home run gave Central Oklahoma the early lead and the No. 2-ranked Bronchos went on to topple Flagler 4-2 in the first round of the Division II tournament on Wednesday.

TIMMERMAN'S EMBRACES DII CHAMPIONSHIP
For Central Oklahoma's Nathalie Timmermans, playing for the DII national championship has a familiar feel -- even if Louisville, Ky, is about 7,000 miles from Beijing, China.
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UCO improved to 45-7 with the victory and will take on Southern Connecticut (43-11) at 5:30 p.m. ET in Thursday's second round.  The Owls trimmed St. Joseph's 3-2, while defending national champion UC San Diego knocked off No. 1 Valdosta State 7-5 and No. 3 Kutztown blanked Augustana 4-0 in the other opening-round games.

Whitmire's three-run homer gave UCO a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but the Saints responded with two runs in their first at bat before the Bronchos added a run in the second to finish the scoring.

“We're glad to get the first one out of the way,” head coach Genny Stidham said.  “Our pitching was good and so was the defense, but we left our offense on the bus with the exception of Megan's hit. She's a good two-strike batter and did a great job getting us on top early.”

Nathalie Timmermans drew a walk to started UCO's two-out rally in the first and Kacie Edwards followed with a single up the middle before Whitmire blasted her 11th homer of the season over the left-center field wall.

Flagler scored twice in the bottom of the first to make it 3-2 before the Bronchos got another run in the second. Hannah Justus led off that inning with a bunt single, went to second on Devyn Frazier's sacrifice and took third on Macy McKay's groundout before scoring on Kayce Raines' two-out single through the right side.

The Saints had base runners four consecutive innings after scoring in the first but UCO's defense again provided solid support for Rachael Steverson in the circle, led by Brittany Weaver at second base and McKay at third.

Flagler had runners on first and third with two outs when the game was stopped for 54 minutes by rain in the bottom of the third inning, with Steverson getting a routine groundout after the long delay to escape the jam.

Weaver – who tied an NCAA Division II record by getting hit by a pitch for the 62nd time during the game – highlighted her strong defense up the middle with a backhanded stop on a hard-hit grounder that turned into an inning-ending double play in the fifth, while McKay made consecutive plays on hard smashes in the sixth.

Steverson dominated the last two innings, retiring the final six batters in order with five groundouts and a line shot that Justus snared at shortstop for the second out of the seventh inning. Steverson improved to 27-5 with the win, giving up seven hits and walking one with two strikeouts.

UCO outhit the Saints 8-7, getting two hits apiece from Edwards and Frazier.