COLLEGE SOFTBALL: No. 12 Odessa College set for pivotal rivalry series with No. 5 Midland College

Winter Ridgeway spent a moment in thought, mulling over ways to describe the upcoming series.

Ridgeway stood in the bullpen at the OC Softball Complex on Wednesday, just before another afternoon of practice and another opportunity for her and the rest of the Odessa College softball team to prepare for the Lady Wranglers’ weekend meetings with rival Midland College.

The word ‘competitive’ came to mind.

So did ‘intense.’

It should certainly be both those things when No. 12 Odessa College and No. 5 Midland College take to the diamond, with the top spot in the conference up for grabs.

Competitive and intense, yes, but for Ridgeway, there’s still another word to describe it: “Fun.”

Better put, she agreed, the chance to compete in a series like this one is simply why Ridgeway and her teammates play the game.

“It’s always exciting to play Midland,” she said.

Odessa College will host Midland College for a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. today at the OC Softball Complex, before the series shifts to Midland for another doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. Saturday at Midland College’s Lady Chaparrals Softball Field.

The teams sit in a tie atop the WJCAC with perfect 12-0 conference records.

Both were ranked in the top 20 of the NJCAA’s latest Division I rankings released Tuesday.

The team that earns the upper hand in the series will have the chance to roll that momentum into the final three weekends of the regular season down the stretch of April.

And, perhaps most importantly, it’s the biggest rivalry weekend of the season for both sides.

“They’re our biggest rival, so whenever they come out here it’s exciting,” Ridgeway said.

Midland College holds a 27-6 overall record entering this weekend. Odessa College stands 26-9.

“It’s definitely going to be a nail-biter,” Lady Wranglers shortstop Vanessa Muro said.

For Odessa College, which has swept its way through conference play up to this point, this weekend’s series should provide an early taste of the intensity and competition the Lady Wranglers should expect at the regional tournament at season’s end.

The Lady Wranglers have yet to play Midland College this season, or fellow conference powerhouse Howard College (28-11 overall, 11-1 WJAC).

“Midland is always a strong program,” Odessa College head coach Karina Cannon said. “It’ll be a great test for our girls to be able to overcome any adversity, feelings of nervousness, having to face adversity in a tight situation.

“I’m excited to see how they respond to that.”

In the meantime, Cannon and the Lady Wranglers said that, while they’re looking forward to the test, they’ll be approaching this series like any other.

Odessa College hasn’t changed anything in its preparation — and instead the Lady Wranglers are planning to focus on themselves simply playing at their best; and ultimately see how their best fares against top-level competition.

“Coach (Cannon) really, this week, has pressed that we shouldn’t think about it different,” Ridgeway said. “Basically, we should play every team the same way. Yeah, of course, we’re going to play Midland hard, but that’s how we should’ve been playing all the other teams too. Hopefully it’s not different.

“We’ve just been working on the same stuff we’ve been working on. We’re doing everything the same way; the right way.”

Freshman Brittany Kennett echoed her fellow pitcher.

“I don’t think we’re doing anything specifically different; Maybe just getting our heads in the right space to play Midland,” Kennett said. “I think that’s the biggest focus we have, is just preparing mentally to play this game.”

Above all else, that’s what Cannon is looking to see out of her team this weekend; a group focused on playing its own game and maximizing its own potential.

“We’re still going to run our game and how we like to play, and we always have a plan,” Cannon said. “We’re still going to attack it as hard as we can. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who we take the field with.

“We have an approach to every day, and we’re going to continue to execute until they make us stop executing that. If they make us change our plans, we’ll go to Plan B.”

Either way, the Lady Wranglers are prepared — and prepared for this series, as intense, competitive and fun as it may be.

“I know everyone is very excited to play them,” Kennett said.

“I feel like everyone is just ready to take on the challenge and give Midland our best game — and come out on top, hopefully.”