MIDLAND The Odessa High Bronchos have been in enough close baseball games this season to know how to respond.
That experience paid off Friday as the Bronchos held on for a 3-2 victory over El Paso Americas in the opener of their Class 6A bi-district playoff series at Zachery Field.
The game was scoreless until the Bronchos (23-9) scored in the bottom of the fifth. The district 1-6A champion Americas (24-7-2) tied it in the top of the sixth, but Odessa High came back with two runs in the bottom half and held on as the Trailblazers loaded the bases with one out in the seventh.
Odessa High coach Josh Hulin said it came down to the Bronchos finding a way to win.
“I’m extremely proud of them,” Hulin said. “I told them after the game that my favorite thing about it was we scored one to take the lead and they scored one to tie it up, then we immediately come right back with two. We did it with some good at bats and some two-strike hitting.”
Cristian Baeza pitched his sixth complete game in 10 starts and sparked the Bronchos’ offense with a triple and a sacrifice fly as Odessa High took a 1-0 series lead.
The junior righthander needed just 86 pitches to go the distance, holding Americas to two runs on four hits. He walked four and struck out two.
“It was a great job by Cristian pitching and hitting and a lot of nice defensive plays, too,” Hulin said.
Baeza (9-1) said Friday’s performance set a good tone for the rest of the series.
“It’s really good because we wanted to get the momentum going in the playoffs and have a run this season,” he said.
“(The low pitch count) gets my confidence up and it helps my defense stay alert.”
The series resumes with Game 2 at 11 a.m. Saturday at Zachery Field with Game 3, if necessary, to follow. Americas coach Jesse Munoz said the Trailblazers will have to step up their level of play.
“We’ve got to play our best baseball or our season’s over,” Munoz said. “We’ve just have to do the little things. When (the Bronchos) needed to make a pitch, they made it. When they needed a base hit, they got it. They did a good job over there. We’ve just got to come out swinging (Saturday).”
Odessa High, which improved to 5-3 in one-run games this season, slipped to the fourth playoff seed out of District 2-6A after a pair of extra-inning losses in its last three outings. Hulin said the Bronchos maintained their composure as another game went down to the final pitch.
“The message has been we’re playing good baseball and have confidence in that,” he said. “We lost two of our last three baseball games, but the two we lost were eight innings, extra-inning games. We were hitting the ball on the nose right at people.
“I wanted us to play with confidence because we’re a good baseball team. I felt like they just continued to play the way they have been.”
Baeza and Trailblazers starter Adrian Torres (7-2) both cruised through the first four innings as the teams combined to advance just one baserunner to third. The Bronchos broke through in the fifth when Baeza led off with a triple over the head of Americas center fielder Julian Galindo and Andres Martinez, who finished 2 for 3, singled to right with two outs.
Galindo tied it with an RBI single in the top of the sixth after Erick Martinez led off with a walk and moved up on a wild pitch, but Odessa High responded in the bottom half of the inning.
Hervey Nieto and Damian Aspeitia walked to get things started and end Torres’ day. Reliever Chris Calanche retired the first batter he faced, but Tony Carrasco was intentionally walked after a wild pitch put runners at second and third. Baeza put the Bronchos back in front with a sacrifice fly and, pinch hitter Bobby Salinas drove in an insurance run that proved to be the difference when he lined an 0-2 pitch into left for a single.
“I just wanted to go out there and do what I could,” Salinas said. “I knew my coach trusted in me and my team trusted in me.
“I got up there and got down 0-2. We’ve been working on the two-strike pitch, look for a curveball and foul off the fastball. He gave me a curveball and I turned on it.”
In the seventh, Americas loaded the bases on Matt Dominguez’s single, Edgar Galaviz’s double and a one-out intentional walk to Darrell Hernaiz. Erick Martinez fouled out deep down the left-field line, scoring Dominguez, but Baeza got Torres to ground out to end the game.
CLASS 6A BI-DISTRICT PLAYOFF
At Zachery Field, Midland
Americas……. 000 001 1 — 2 4 0
Odessa High. 000 012 x — 3 6 1
Adrian Torres, Chris Calanche (6) and Edgar Galaviz. Cristian Baeza and Andres Martinez. W — Baeza (9-1). L — Torres (7-2). 2B — Americas: Galaviz. 3B — Odessa High: Baeza.
Records — El Paso Americas 24-7-2, Odessa High 23-9.