The Odessa High Bronchos drew a familiar foe for the second round of the Class 6A baseball playoffs.
The Bronchos (24-9) and Abilene High (20-11) will meet in an area series at Moegle Field in Lubbock. Game 1 is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday with Game 2 at noon Saturday. Game 3, if necessary, will start 30 minutes following the conclusion of Game 2.
The two programs were district rivals for much of their history, the last time in 2016 before the Eagles were moved to a Fort Worth-area district in realignment. This year’s seniors would have met in district play as sophomores.
“It’s cool,” Odessa High coach Josh Hulin said of the matchup. “Me and (Eagles coach Ryan) Lewis talked before we played this last week, just kind of preliminary talks, and we thought it’d be cool to meet up for the second round.”
Both teams are coming off bi-district sweeps despite being the lower-seeded team. Odessa High, the fourth seed out of District 2-6A, defeated District 1-6A champion El Paso Americas 3-2 and 9-3. Abilene High, the third-place team from District 3-6A, knocked off District 4-6A runner-up Arlington High 5-1 and 5-3.
“Abilene High’s a very similar team to us,” Hulin said. “The guys on the mound are going to challenge you, make you earn it. They’re going to make all the routine plays and be scrappy at the plate. It’s a good matchup, an even matchup, and it’s just going to be who plays better ball.”
Bronchos outfielder Jacob Munoz said the teams are almost a mirror image of each other.
“We know that Abilene High’s real scrappy,” Munoz said. “They’re similar to us. We know they’re going to make us battle and compete, and we’re going to compete back.”
While Odessa High was the fourth playoff seed — on a tiebreaker — the Bronchos were the lone District 2-6A team to survive the first round. If they can reproduce the offensive production of their series-clinching victory over Americas, their season could extend beyond this week.
Despite playing mostly low-scoring games in district, Odessa High averages nearly six runs per game and is batting .310 as a team. Four players are batting more than .300 — Bo J. Martinez (.391), Hervey Nieto (.384), Gibrian Pena (.366) and Julian Jimenez (.326). Andres Martinez has team highs with 11 doubles and 24 RBIs, and is followed in RBIs by Nieto (23), Pena (22) and Bobby Salinas (20), while Bo J. Martinez and Tony Carrasco each have 17.
Carrasco said the Bronchos approach this weekend is the same as it was in bi-district and the regular season before that.
“We’re just going to do what we do,” he said. “Defense makes the routine plays and our offense can take over. That’s what we’ve always been doing. Our offense is hot right now. We can get on a roll.
“We’ve just got to humble ourselves. We can’t get too excited. We’ve just got to win one pitch at a time, just like everything. That’s what we did last game. That’s how we won.”
Munoz said it’s simply the way the Broncos play.
“We’ve been grinding it out all season,” he said. “That’s what our program is. We work hard every day, we focus on the fundamentals and we set goals and try to achieve those goals by the end of the year.”
On the mound, Cristian Baeza, Damian Aspeitia and Salinas give Hulin three solid starting options in a series. Baeza is 9-1 with a 1.44 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. Aspeitia is 6-3 with a 1.66 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 59 innings. Salinas, who got the start in Game 2 last week, is 2-2 with a 1.75 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 25.2 innings.
Now, the Bronchos must simply reproduce what has gotten them this far.
“The thing we’re preaching is just executing the routine stuff,” Hulin said, “being able to execute bunts, make the routine plays and throw strikes.
“Everybody’s got momentum. This is probably the most momentum and the most confidence we’ve played with all year. We are really excited about being in the second round.”