COLLEGE SOFTBALL: Odessa College ready to make return to national tournament

The last time the Odessa College softball team advanced to the NJCAA National Tournament was in 2014.

That team, led by a trio of All Americans in Zoe Murillo, Sarah Galaviz and Janessa Flynn, finished 52-12.

This season’s roster has some parallels, with three players making big impacts to send the Lady Wranglers back to the national competition.

Odessa College will go into the 2021 NJCAA Division I Softball Championship as a No. 11 seed, facing off against Seminole State College Tuesday in Yuma, Arizona.

Shortstops Illy Cisneros and Hunter Harkrider have made their presence known at the plate during the 2021 campaign.

The pair combined to hit 36 of the team’s 54 home runs and drive in 138 runs.

Their performances, combined with the pitching of Aydenne Brown, made the Lady Wranglers a dangerous team as postseason tournaments drew near.

Brown recorded 230 strikeouts and compiled a 1.64 earned run average, 13th in the nation.

Odessa College’s Aydenne Brown (13) pitches against Howard College May 3 at the OC Softball Complex.

Cisneros was already an experienced member of the team, while Harkrider and Brown joined this season.

Harkrider had collegiate experience after transferring in from UT-Tyler, but Brown came in and made an impact as a freshman from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Odessa College head coach Jeff Jackson said the best players perform whenever it matters, especially when their team is in must-win situations later in the year.

“They have to perform in those moments or else it doesn’t really matter,” Jackson said.

The trio stepped up when the team needed them.

The Lady Wranglers (38-9) head into the national tournament riding a seven-game winning streak.

Over that span, Harkrider and Cisneros combined to hit eight homes, with 24 RBIs.

Brown pitched 19 innings, surrendering 10 hits and seven runs.

Brown said it felt good to see the team look to her for stability, even if it was her first year as a Lady Wrangler.

When she steps into the circle on game days, she locks in and focuses on the batter in front of her.

Jackson’s coaching staff was very high on Brown through her college recruitment, but the head coach was a little surprised by her production in her first collegiate campaign.

“She just kept getting better and better,” Jackson said. “One day she was just electric, we were excited to see who she became very quickly in the fall.”

The pitcher’s ability to constantly keep her team in winning situations makes her a special player for Jackson.

That, combined with the Lady Wranglers’ batting and defense, made the team harder to beat as the season went along.

Harkrider and Cisneros provided leadership to the team throughout the season, leaning on experiences playing at the collegiate level.

The former was recruited by Jackson while at Permian, ultimately deciding to join Odessa College the third time the coaching staff reached out to her.

Harkrider said the Lady Wranglers were a good fit for her playing style and she wanted to be somewhere she knew well after her decision to transfer.

It felt good for Harkrider to join with other team leaders to get the team back in the national competition.

“I’m playing with a group of girls that have worked hard as much or more than I have,” Harkrider said. “I’m glad to be a part of this team, knowing that we could go beat everybody at nationals.”

As the Lady Wranglers head to Yuma, Jackson expects everyone on the roster to step up and be competitive because of the foundation already laid throughout the 2021 season.

“It’s what we’ve been talking the entire year,” Jackson said. “Our goal is to go and compete for a national championship.

“We want to go and make this program consistently competitive at the national level.”

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