Entering the season, Odessa High baseball coach Josh Hulin said the ability to develop pitching would be the key to success for the Bronchos.
Odessa High had most of the field positions covered by returning starters from 2017’s playoff team, but graduated its top three pitchers.
The emergence of senior lefthander Damian Aspeitia and junior righthander Cristian Baeza have put the Bronchos back in the postseason.
Odessa High (22-9) takes on El Paso Americas (24-6) in a Class 6A bi-district series at Midland’s Zachary Field. Game 1 is 4:30 p.m. Friday with Game 2 at 11 a.m. Saturday. Game 3, if necessary, will also be played Saturday.
“We’re the fourth seed, so we’re playing a district champ,” Hulin said. “We’re playing a team that’s confident. We’re playing a good baseball team.
“They’ve got a top of the lineup that is really good, probably one of the best — if not the best — 1 through 4 in a lineup that you’ll see. They’ve got a left-handed pitcher that’s a bulldog on the mound. We’re going to have to play well to be successful.”
Baeza and Aspeitia each made nine starts for the Bronchos, including 13 of 15 games in District 2-6A. Baeza (8-1) posted a 1.37 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 40.1 innings pitched. He threw four complete games, all district victories. Aspeitia (6-3) has a 1.57 ERI with 42 strikeouts on 58 innings. He had two complete games in addition to pitching seven innings or more in two games that went extra innings.
“They’ve really done an outstanding job,” Hulin said. “They’ve carried our team through our offensive struggles. Without those two, we’d have no chance of any kind of playoffs. They put this team on their backs.”
While neither is overpowering, both Aspeitia and Baeza have been effective.
“We’ve learned to pitch to contact,” Aspeitia said. “We’re not strikeout pitchers, so it’s better for us to go out there and let the hitters hit and have our defense play behind us.”
Baeza said it’s simply been a matter of sticking with the plan each time out.
“We know what we’re supposed to do on the mound, having trust in our catcher (Andres Martinez), what he calls, and having trust in our defense,” he said. “Without our defense, there’s no support.”
The duo picked up in April, combining to go seven innings or more in a seven starts.
“It makes it a lot easier to keep it rolling,” Aspeitia said. “You don’t have that much pressure on you because you know you have (teammates) behind you to be there to support you.”
Baeza said avoiding big innings has been a key for both.
“We try to make the games interesting by keeping it close,” Baeza said. “By keeping it close, everyone’s more into it, more focused on what’s going on.”
Hulin said the pair’s main attribute has been their competitiveness.
“Both of them are giving us a chance every time they pitch,” he said. “They throw strikes. They use their defense. Neither of them are high-strikeout pitchers, but they’ve been throwing three different pitches for strikes and keeping guys off balance.
“They give us a chance to win, and that’s all you can ask.”
After battling Permian and Midland Lee for second place most of the district race, Odessa High slipped to fourth with a pair of extra-inning losses in their final three games. Hulin said while the results went against the Bronchos, the experience gained from those games could pay off in the postseason.
“On the outside, the immediate feeling about not getting second place, not good,” he said. “But in retrospect and having a few days to think about it, we’re excited to be in the playoffs. You always want to finish as high as you can, but at the end of the day we played pretty good three straight games. We just, unfortunately, didn’t win two of them.”