The area round is a familiar spot for the Odessa High softball team as the Lady Bronchos have advanced out of the first round of the playoffs each of the last five seasons.
The second round, though, has turned into a roadblock as their seasons have ended there during that same stretch.
Odessa High (27-7 overall) will be looking to change those fortunes this weekend as the Lady Bronchos face off against Abilene High (25-1-2) in a best-of-3 series starting 4 p.m. Friday at Lubbock-Cooper High School in Woodrow.
The series continues with Game 2 at 3 p.m. Saturday, with a third game to follow if necessary.
“These kids have been through these kinds of games,” head coach Rachel Pena said. “They’re hungry for it and they want more to be successful and go as far as they did last year.”
One aspect that the Lady Bronchos will lean on in the series is their offensive firepower.
After struggling with consistency early in District 2-6A play, Odessa High has found a better rhythm at the plate, averaging 10 runs a game in its last eight games.
That included a combined 23 runs in two games against El Paso Franklin in its bi-district series and the Lady Bronchos credit a more disciplined approach for sparking the offense.
“I think we were more relaxed compared to the previous games,” senior Alyssa Deanda said. “We just wanted to go out and have fun.”
“We were just being very selective at the plate,” senior Skylar Herrera said. “We knew we had to drive the ball well and support our pitcher with some runs.
“We’re staying within ourselves and just trying to work within what we can control.”
That adjustment has also helped players like junior outfielder Abigale Rayos.
Rayos delivered for her team in the weekend series, finishing 5 for 8 with two doubles and six RBIs over the two games, including the series-clinching two-run RBI single in Game 2 to put the Lady Bronchos into the next round.
“I think we just worked really hard focusing on our batting and getting girls on base,” Rayos said. “I also get confidence from my team cheering me on. They pick me up and I really want to do well for them.”
That boost in confidence is something that Pena has seen not just from Rayos but the rest of the team. She admits that her team’s patience at the plate started coming to fruition last week.
“I thought we were really disciplined at the plate and that’s something we struggled with sometimes,” Pena said. “In the last series, we did a good job of taking pitches and drawing walks.
“That was probably the most walks we’ve taken in a while and that’s good. It showed when we started hitting the ball.”
The Lady Bronchos will look to carry that approach in to the next series against the Lady Eagles. For as many runs as Odessa High has scored, Abilene High has done a great job of shutting down its opponents, allowing just two runs over its last eight games.
“The approach doesn’t change,” said Herrera on facing the Lady Eagles, “We’re going to play our game like we know how to play. The pitcher hasn’t given up a lot of runs but we’ve been able to score a lot of runs and we’ll be able to fight back.”
Pena knows the challenge that her team will face over the weekend but is also very confident of her team’s ability to be ready for whatever the Lady Eagles throw at them.
“We’ve faced a lot of good pitchers all season long and that gives us something to draw from,” Pena said. “We just have to focus on one inning and a time.
“I’ve seen them (Abilene High). I know they’re good. I know their record and their ranking. But we’re up to the challenge, we can compete and we’ll be ready.”