For the second year in a row, the Odessa High Bronchos have drawn a former district opponent in the second round of the Class 6A baseball playoffs.
The Bronchos and San Angelo Central Bobcats renew acquaintances when they square off in an area-round series starting at 6 tonight at Hardin-Simmons University’s Hunter Field in Abilene. Game 2 is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday with Game 3, if necessary, to follow.
While it’s been three years since the Bronchos and Bobcats competed in the same district, Odessa High coach Joshua Hulin said some things haven’t changed with this week’s opponent,
“Central is always talented,” Hulin said. “They’ve always got some guys who throw hard on the mound and can pitch. They’ve always got guys who can swing it.
“They’re not big on playing small ball, but they can. They like to score in bunches. They play as close to a power ball game as you can play in high school.”
The Bobcats (23-12-1) have had plenty of punch this season, recording 93 extra-base hits (68 doubles, 10 triples, 15 home runs). Catcher Nixon Brannan (.421, 19 2B, 4 HR, 41 RBI), third baseman Oscar Nino (.420, 10 2B, 1 HR, 31 RBI) and designated hitter Gunner Couch (.379, 7 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 26 RBI) lead the team, while four other starters are batting more than .300. Center fielder Rance Rosas (.309, 7 2B, 6 3B, 5 HR, 21 RBI) leads the team in triples and homers.
On the mound, Central relies on Couch (6-1, 3.20, 50 SO), Trey Neslage (6-3, 1.45, 50 SO) and Dylan Abbott (4-2, 2.81, 27 SO).
Odessa High (19-10-1) is led by shortstop Gibrian Pena (.407, 10 2B, 1 3B, 17 RBI), designated hitter Hervey Nieto (.381, 8 2B, 2 HR, 24 RBI) and pitcher-infielder Cristian Baeza (.372, 7 2B, 2 3B, 19 RBI). Pitcher-third baseman Bobby Salinas (.312, 8 2B, 4 HR, 25 RBI) leads the Bronchos in home runs and is second in RBIs.
On the mound, Baeza (6-2, 1.31, 58 SO) and Salinas (4-3, 2.77, 27 SO) were the only Bronchos to throw a pitch in last week’s bi-district sweep of El Paso Socorro.
While they no longer compete in the same district, Odessa High and Central still see each other on the field.
“We’ve scrimmaged them every year we haven’t been in the same disitrict,” Hulin said. “They kind of put it on us when we scrimmaged them this year. Who keeps score in a scrimmage except the parents? But it was obvious that they scored a lot more runs than we did.
“We look forward to the challenge. It’s a big challenge. It’s an exciting challenge. I think the guys are going to embrace it. We know we’re going to face adversity no matter who’s in the other dugout. The only thing we can really do is worry about ourselves.”
In addition to the scrimmage with Odessa High, Central played four nondistrict games against Midland High and Permian. Following an April 6 game at McCanlies Field, Bobcats coach Patrick Penry said he tries to maintain ties with former district opponents.
“Any time we face anybody from our old district it’s always a challenge and a battle,” Penry said. “Our philosophy’s always been one pitch, one game at a time. We do keep an eye on (the rest of Region I-6A). We have good working relationships with all these teams over here.
“It’s a fraternity. We’re out here competing when we’re playing each other, but we’re always rooting for guys like Permian and Odessa and all these guys we’ve known and been in a district with.”
Odessa High first baseman Jordan Munoz said a lot has changed in the nearly three months since this year’s scrimmage.
“It doesn’t really give us an advantage or a disadvantage,” said Munoz, who leads the team with 27 RBIs and is batting .345 with seven doubles, a triple and a homer. “It’s on a neutral playing field. We’ve seen them, they’ve seen us, so we’ve just got to go out there and play.”
Bronchos center fielder Charles McClure said that while the teams may not have much recent history, the Odessa High players know what to expect.
“We keep up with them every now and then, but we’ve seen people like them,” McClure said. “I would say we’ve seen better teams than them. But they’re still a tough opponent. They’re a good team. I think if we play and do our part and we’re the better team, that’s the way it should end up at the end of the day.”
And the Bronchos have been doing their part to be the better team, Munoz said.
“We just need to keep doing the same things we did in practice, the same things we did all week,” he said. “If anything, we should be doing more and being ready to play San Angelo. They’re a good team. Of course, we’re a good team and practice will only make us better.”
Hulin said the main thing is the Bronchos must continue doing the things that got this this far.
“It’s high school baseball,” he said. “To me, scouting reports are not completely irrelevant, but they’re not as important as they are when you get higher up in baseball. When you start worrying too much about what the other team’s doing, you forget to focus on yourself and play your own game.
“We’ve got to make routine plays, throw a ton of strikes on the mound and we’ve got to execute at the plate. We’re really focused on us. It’s cool that we play San Angelo Central and Coach Penry, but we’re just excited to be in the second round of the playoffs.”
One of those routine plays helped Odessa High keep Socorro off the board in the Bronchos’ 2-0 victory in Game 2 of the bi-district series. Socorro’s Angel Rodriguez doubled with one out in the third inning, but was thrown out at third as Odessa High right fielder Andrei Garcia got the ball back in quickly and second baseman Gabriel Avila fired a strike on the relay.
"It was a nice play, but it was a routine play," Hulin said. "It was an outfielder hitting his cutoff man and the cutoff man throwing it to the base he was supposed to and making a quality throw.
"That was a good play for us. It definitely gave us a little bit of momentum. A couple of sophomores making a play like that is pretty neat, too."
McClure said the Bronchos need to keep building on the momentum from last week’s series.
"I think last week was a big momentum shifter for us," he said. "We already had momentum going into it, but we understand that we’ve been in that spot and we’re going back to do something we’ve done before.
"We’re just trying to accomplish our long goals, so it was a tiny step for us.
We’re going to continue to do what we do best. We’re scrappy and we’ll continue to fight."