WOMEN’S COLLEGE SOFTBALL: Odessa College turning focus to Region V West Tournament

The Odessa College softball team continued its streak of Western Junior College Athletic Conference titles in last week’s sweep of Frank Phillips College to end the regular season.

Now, the Lady Wranglers are hoping to continue their current streak of NJCAA Softball Tournament appearances.

To do that, they’ll need to win the Region V West Tournament this week in Lubbock.

Odessa College (38-12 overall, 23-1 in WJCAC) will get a first-round bye in the tournament and face the winner of Howard College-Frank Phillips College at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Lubbock Christian.

The winner of the Region V West Tournament gets an automatic bid for the national tournament.

In previous years, only the region tournament champions qualified for nationals.

This year, the NJCAA will be accepting four at-large bids for the national tournament but Odessa College head coach Doug Eastman said his team isn’t going to be relying on that to get in.

“I don’t think anybody in our conference will get an at-large bid,” Eastman said. “We have four at-larges this year and that’s different than what we’ve had in the past. It’s going to be difficult for our conference to get an at-large. I think Temple College will get an at-large and you have some Florida schools that will get it. We’re not going to depend on getting an at-large bid even though we’ve been extremely hot for three quarters of the season. We’re playing our best softball right now. But we’re going to assume that we need to win our tournament. With two pitchers, we need to win three in a row to get it done. You don’t want to get in a losers’ bracket. We don’t have enough arms.”

The Lady Wranglers have appeared in the NJCAA tournament for the past three years, advancing to the semifinals in 2022 and ’23 and coming home with third place finishes the last two seasons.

Odessa College clinched its third consecutive WJCAC title after only needing two wins against Frank Phillips last Friday in Borger.

The team ended up winning all four games by scores of 11-0, 10-9, 17-4 and 25-0.

Midland College (44-11, 19-5) finished second in the conference standings.

“We’ve played really well,” Eastman said. “We’re playing great softball. It’s difficult not to let your guard down in a long season. Even Midland College, which has a lot of talent, they got bit by a couple of people along the way. I’m just proud of these ladies for keeping their concentration on a daily basis and understand that we’re always playing against ourselves and not necessarily our opponent. They always come ready to play and that shows up in the 23-1 conference record.”

To get past this week’s Region V West Tournament, the Lady Wranglers know they’re likely going to have to beat Midland College twice.

The Lady Wranglers’ only loss in the conference regular season was a 9-3 defeat against Midland College on April 5 at the Wrangler Softball Complex.

Odessa College still managed to win the series against the Lady Chaps, but Eastman knows it’ll be tricky to get past Midland College again.

“I think there’s no doubt that we’ll have to play them twice,” Eastman said. “I assume we’ll be playing Midland College on Friday and I think the team that wins that game will go on to win the whole deal and go on to the national tournament. It will be difficult to beat us twice and I think it’ll be difficult to beat them twice back-to-back with their pitcher who’s been averaging 11 strikeouts a game. If we can get it done on Friday night against Midland, I think we’ll be in great shape.”

Last week’s series was not only momentous because of the Lady Wranglers winning another WJCAC title but also because it featured a milestone victory for Eastman.

The Lady Wranglers’ 25-0 win on Saturday gave Eastman his 900th career victory as a coach.

“It means that I’m getting old,” Eastman said while laughing. “I’ve had some outstanding athletes who have played for me for 22 years. Before you know it, you reach that 900th mark. I’ve been blessed with some great athletes and hopefully I’ve helped them become better players and better people and that’s pretty much my goal and why I became a coach. 900 feels good and 1,000 is next.”