ABILENE Cristian Baeza and the Odessa High Bronchos held the high-powered San Angelo Central Bobcats down most the night Friday in the opener of their Class 6A area playoff series.
It wasn’t enough.
Central’s Rance Rosas homered and Trey Neslage pitched into the seventh as the Bobcats came away with a 4-2 victory at Hunter Field.
Game 2 of the series is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday with Game 3, if necessary to follow.
Friday’s game was played in a steady drizzle that started in the second inning and picked up intermittently the rest of the evening. The conditions made things difficult for Neslage and Baeza, who both were pushing the pitch limit when they were pulled.
Odessa High coach Joshua Hulin said the Bronchos (19-11-1) never could get a handle on Neslage.
"We just didn’t square anything up the entire game," Hulin said. "Their pitcher was wild at times, but it was kind of effectively wild.
“Their guy did a good job and Cristian competed really good for us to keep us in the game, but at the end of the day you’ve got to hit the ball harder than we did today."
Bobcats coach Patrick Penry said Odessa High gave Central (24-13-1) everything he expected.
"Josh and Odessa High do a great job," Penry said. "They compete and I can’t speak highly enough of those guys.
“We were lucky to get Game 1, especially with the conditions, and we know it’s not going to be an easy Game 2."
Neslage (7-3) allowed two runs on just two hits over 6.1 innings, but walked seven batters and hit two. He also struck out five.
"(Neslage) has got such good stuff that sometimes it’s got so much movement that he has trouble finding the zone as far as the number of walks," Penry said. "He had a lot more than we wanted to, especially since we preach eliminate the free bases.
"He was a little upset that we took him out. It was (because of) the pitch count that we took him out, but he’s such a competitor that he thought he was like at 80. It was one of those things that if you compete like that, you overcome a lot of the adversity you face as far as finding control and filling up the one."
Baeza (6-3) went five innings, giving up four runs on nine hits. He struck out five and walked one.
While Baeza didn’t allow as many walks as Neslage, he consistently worked deep into counts early in the game, elevating his pitch count.
"You’re talking about two aces going against each other and both of them struggled with their command," Hulin said. "I think the balls affected the pitching. But defensively, I don’t think it affected it one bit. It was a clean game behind the guys on the mound.
"Really, the name of the game was they hit the ball harder than we did, so they win."
Central got to Baeza for a run in the second inning and three in the third. In the second, Oscar Nino led off with a single and scored on Jakob Charles’ two-out single when Odessa High catcher Pilar Ramirez lost the ball making the tag at the plate.
The Bobcats began their second time through the order in the third and took advantage. Blake Mikeska led off with a double and Rosas followed with his team-leading sixth home run to left. Nixon Brannan followed with a double and courtesy runner Kyson Snelson scored on a wild pitch before Baeza got out of the inning.
"When those guys (at the top of the order) get on base, then it’s one those things that there’s no telling how many we can put up," Penry said. "And (Baeza) did a good job of keeping us off balance, there’s no doubt. There’s a reason why he’s their ace. He came out and performed."
Odessa High’s runs came in the fourth, when Bobby Salinas and Hervey Nieto walked to open the inning. After Ramirez hit into a force play, Jordan Munoz singled cleanly up the middle to drive in Salinas. Courtesy runner Angel Rios scoed on a wild pitch before Neslage got out of the inning.
The Bronchos had runners in scoring position in six innings, but Neslage kept working out of trouble.
In the seventh inning, Neslage got a quick out before walking Baeza to bring the tying run to the plate. Nino came on to get the final two outs for the save.
Mikeska finihed 2 for 4, while Brannan doubled twice in going 2 for 3 and Charles finished 2 for 3 for Central.
Charles McClure had Odessa High’s other hit, beating out a roller to short to lead off the third. Baeza, Salinas and Gabriel Avila each reached base twice, combining for four walks and to hit batters.