The Odessa High Bronchos had to dig down to advance to the third round of the Class 6A baseball playoffs, needing a Game 3 victory Saturday to get past Abilene High in the area round.
They’ll likely have to dig a little deeper — and do it shorthanded — to extend their season another week.
The Bronchos (26-10) take on Keller Timber Creek (27-9) in the regional quarterfinals starting Thursday at McMurry University’s Walt Driggers Field in Abilene. Game 1 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday with Game 2 at 7 p.m. Friday. Game 3, if necessary, will start at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The format differs from the Friday-Saturday schedule Odessa High employed in the first two rounds, but Bronchos coach Josh Hulin said there’s really no advantage to be gained or lost by spreading the series out over three days.
“The schedule really wasn’t my idea,” Hulin said. “The Metroplex kind of does it, but they don’t have to travel like we do. This is what Timber Creek wanted. For me, I just wanted to play ball.”
The Falcons roster includes two Division I signees in shortstop Mateo Gil, the son of former Texas Rangers infielder Benji Gil, who is headed to TCU, and third baseman Zack Gregory, who is bound for Arkansas.
“Obviously, they’re in the third round for a reason,” Hulin said. “They’ve got some talented players.
“We’ve faced talented teams all year, so we’re kind of used to that. Teams in our district like Midland Lee and (Wolfforth) Frenship prepare us for games and series like this. But they’re obviously playing good, so we expect it to be a well-fought battle.”
The Falcons will be the second consecutive District 3-6A opponent for Odessa High. Timber Creek tied Abilene High for second place in the 3-6A standings with a 4-0 victory on April 27, the final day of the district season, then won 3-2 in a seeding game the next day.
Meanwhile, the Bronchos could be without sophomore outfielder Hervey Nieto, who suffered a sprained elbow while pitching in relief Saturday against Abilene High. Hulin said Nieto, who leads Odessa High with a .386 batting average and 27 RBIs, could be available for the upcoming series.
“He’s a huge part of our team,” Hulin said of Nieto. “One thing about Hervey is his energy in the dugout and being a great teammate and encouraging his teammates. He did everything he possibly could to get to the next round.”
Nieto’s injury forced Hulin to shuffle Odessa High’s defensive alignment for the third game against Abilene High, moving Bo J. Martinez from second base to right field and inserting Cristian Baeza at second.
“You kind of prepare guys for moments like this when you play in tournaments,” Hulin said. “You play them in different positions.”
Martinez, who is hitting .381 as the Bronchos’ leadoff batter, said he was prepared for the position change.
“Coach moved me there in practice before to get ready for tournament play,” Martinez said. “He needed me to step up in right field, so that’s what I had to do.”
The toughest part, said Martinez, who handled three chances at each position in Saturday’s two games, was getting a good read on the ball.
“Outfield is a lot different than the infield,” he said. “I feel like in the infield, I can see the ball come slower to me. In the outfield, we’re just so far away it feels like it’s coming fast, so I have to make a real quick read on it.”
Odessa High survived the situation as senior lefthander Damian Aspeitia (7-3, 1.83 ERA) took a shutout into the sixth inning of a 7-3 victory. Junior righthander Baeza (10-1, 1.59 ERA) pitched his eighth complete game in 11 start in winning the series opener.
That the Bronchos were able to prevail despite some bad breaks in the Game 2 loss was no surprise to Hulin.
“These guys, my seniors, since they got to Odessa High, when they were at the freshman level, they played like that,” he said. “When they were sophomores on the JV, they played like that. So there was nothing new.
“It’s kind of something intrinsic that they just came with. The younger guys have kid of picked up on it, led by the seniors, but I’m not sure we got anything different except we’ve got another cool story to tell.”
Shortstop Gibrian Pena, who is hitting .373 with 23 RBIs, said the Bronchos don’t plan to do anything different against Timber Creek.
“It’s the same mindset that we’ve been having — keep on rolling like we have been,” Pena said. “The same work ethic, same everything.
“(Winning in the playoffs) is exciting, but at the same time you’ve got to know what you’ve got to do and get it done.”