ABILENE The Odessa High Bronchos may have qualified for the Class 6A baseball playoffs as the fourth seed out of District 2-6A, but they didn’t play like a fourth-place team in the postseason.
The Bronchos saw their season end Saturday with a 8-5 loss to Keller Timber Creek in Game 3 of a regional quarterfinal series at Walt Driggers Field, becoming the last District 2-6A representative to be eliminated from the playoffs. In fact, Odessa High (27-12) was the lone district team to advance beyond the bi-district round.
“It was a fun ride,” Odessa High coach Josh Hulin said. “We worked our tails off to give ourselves a chance to be successful every time we played. Every one of those wins, we enjoyed it, from the tournament games all the way through district and all the way into the playoffs.
“I’m going to miss these seniors a ton.”
The Bronchos graduate seven seniors, six of whom started Saturday’s game. Odessa High second baseman-outfielder Bo J. Martinez, one of the seniors, said the Bronchos had to prove themselves all season long.
“Starting off, they predicted us to not even make the playoffs,” he said. “We showed up, stepped out every district game. We came into the playoffs and got two championships out of it. That’s what we had to prove, that we were the better team in our district.”
Senior outfielder Jacob Munoz said the Bronchos showed they weren’t a team that opponents could take lightly.
“We want to be known as a team that’s going to fight and scrap, and we want our underclassmen to know that, too,” he said. “As seniors, we hope we left a good note and we want our underclassmen to follow in our footsteps.”
Rowdy Abalos said Odessa High’s mental approach was a big factor in the team’s success.
“It shows that baseball’s one pitch at a time,” he said.
Hulin said this year’s senior class continued a trend started by its predecessors.
“I don’t know that the entire season was necessarily a result of just these seniors,” he said. “I think the guys in the past kind of set the foundation for allowing us to have a good season like this.
“We’ve had an incredible senior class for four straight years. Guys that played for us in the past, like Cal Pequeno and Robert Morales, left such a foundation for hard work. These kids kind of followed their lead.”
And now, Hulin said, it will be up to the returning players to carry that on.
“We expect the younger guys who are coming back to just kind of follow the lead of the guys who have played here in the past,” he said.
Odessa High finished in a three-way tie for second place in the 2-6A standings, suffering a pair of eight-inning losses in its final three games to fall out of the No. 2 seed. Catcher Andres Martinez said that was more than enough motivation for the playoffs, which saw the Bronchos sweep El Paso Americas in bi-district round and beat Abilene High in three games in the area round.
“We just showed how tough we were,” he said. “We showed that we were never going to give up and that we weren’t a fourth seed. We should have been a 1 or 2 seed, and we pretty much showed it in these playoff series.”
Once again, first baseman Tony Carrasco said, it was a matter of the Bronchos having to prove themselves.
“We took it personally when we were the fourth seed,” he said. “Nobody expected us to win the first round. As soon as we won, we got a lot of confidence. We played with confidence in the postseason and that helped us a lot.”
Odessa High relied heavily on the pitching combination of junior righthander Cristian Baeza (11-1) and senior lefthander Damian Aspeitia. Senior third baseman Julian Jimenez said pitching and defense were the Bronchos’ calling cards this season.
“That’s what you need to win ballgames and that’s what we needed to back up our pitchers,” Jimenez said.
Aspeitia, who got the start Saturday, said having a reliable team behind him made it all possible.
“This group of guys right here is probably the best group I’ve ever played baseball with,” he said. “They helped me improve from what I’ve done. It’s everything I ever expected from a team.”