SHAWNEE — Two games and two losses into the season, Lady Jets head coach Scott Morris worried a long year was in store for him and the Lady Jets.
"I genuinely, with every ounce of my being, believe that. It wasn't just a skeptic coach," he said. "This has been a God-thing from that point forward."
Four months later, the result is far from what he expected.
For the first time since 2014, the Northern Oklahoma College Enid women's basketball team claimed the Region II tournament championship. In doing so, it clinched an automatic berth to the NJCAA Division I National Championship tournament.
The Jets knocked off three-time defending champion Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, 61-47, Saturday at the Mabee Arena on the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University.
After a poor start to the regular season back in November, Morris warned those closest to him this year may not go well compared to the relatively successful seasons he previously guided NOC Enid to.
Yet, just as they've continuously done throughout the season, the Jets surprised their coach with one of, if not the best, stretch in program history.
NOC Enid followed up the 0-2 start by winning 18 straight games, and 28 of its next 29. In the process, they racked up a perfect 19-0 record against conference opponents.
Morris said there are a number of quality aspects behind the Jets' remarkable run, but one specifically he can't take credit for.
"It's just that synergy they create," he said. "You can't coach that, you can't recruit that because it's blended together. It's not individual pieces."
Saturday's championship game marked the fourth consecutive year NOC Enid and NEO met for the title. However this time it was the Jets who raised the trophy and cut down the nets after an agonizing run of season-ending defeats at the hands of the Norse.
Morris said the victory was significant on several levels, but none greater than dethroning NEO.
"If we would not have come away on top this year, then you're fighting that stigma, you're fighting that huge mountain," Morris said. "So this completely obliterates that."
Coming into the 2018-19 season, NOC Enid had lost 11 straight games to NEO over the course of a nearly five-year period. The Lady Jets completed a three-game season sweep of the Lady Norse Saturday to begin a streak of their own.
Morris' squad never trailed and held a double-digit lead for a majority of the contest.
NOC Enid's largest first-half margin was 13 following an 11-3 run to open the second quarter. At the midway break, the Jets led 36-26 after connecting on 48 percent of their field-goal attempts in the first half, compared to 24 percent for NEO.
The greatest deficit for the Lady Norse came with 22 seconds left in the third following back-to-back 3-pointers from freshman guard Kaylee Hurst and sophomore guard Jacie Engler.
The final quarter was sloppy compared to the first three, but given the intensity of the game and the fact both teams were playing their third contest in as many days, Morris felt that was to be expected.
It wasn't until late in the fourth that Morris truly felt his Jets had secured the win.
"Honestly, with about five minutes to go in the game, we weren't doing anything productively, but I could sense NEO deflate a little bit like their fight was gone," he said. "I thought, well if that's their mentality then I think we can pull this out."
NOC Enid sophomore guard Monique Tramble, who was named All-Tournament MVP, scored a game-high 15. She said the entire event of finally winning the title felt surreal and rewarding.
"It feels like everything we worked for in practice everyday — it came down to it and we got it done," she said.
Tramble also finished the game with nine rebounds and six steals.
Her championship performance continues her best stretch of play this season. Since last Friday's regular season finale, Tramble has averaged nearly 16 points per during the four-game stretch and led the Jets in scoring three times, something she never did in the previous 24 games she played in this season.
Morris called his star sophomore guard's stretch "a strange phenomenon" that he's never seen in his near 20 years of coaching in Enid.
"You don't usually have a player at this stage of their basketball career that becomes a better shooter," Morris said after Tramble scored a game-high 18 against Redlands in the region semifinals.
NOC Enid will find out its seeding and opponent for the national tournament Monday during the 2019 NJCAA Division I Selection Show at 10 a.m. The broadcast can be viewed live on NJCAA.com.
The Championship Tournament will take place on March 18-23 at the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock, Texas.