HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL: Morales leads Odessa High to rivalry win over Permian

When Permian made its move Tuesday, Odessa High pitcher Robert Morales could’ve gotten rattled.

The Panthers had just laid down back-to-back base hits to start the top of third inning at Pressly Field. As he stood on the mound in the center of a crosstown rivalry showdown, with Permian applying pressure at the plate, and him knowing his team’s early three-run lead could be erased at the single crack of a bat, Morales could’ve faltered. He could’ve been shaken by the moment.

But instead, Morales stood firm.

The Bronchos’ senior forced the next Permian batter into a short infield grouder, which he fielded and — while operating cool and composed — fired to third to get the lead runner on a fielder’s choice, all before he put the next two batters down on a  pop fly to shallow right and a infield groundout to get out of the inning.

That allowed the Bronchos to push across four more runs in the ensuing bottom half and break the game open en route to an 8-1 rivalry victory in District 2-6A play.

“Big game. Big moment,” Morales summed it up simply after the win.

Morales allowed just four hits in a complete game, with those two that came in the top of third being the only two the senior allowed through a scoreless first six innings.

Odessa High scored three runs in the first inning, then took that 3-0 lead into the third, where Permian’s Daniel Enriquez and Christian Tschauner laid down those consecutive base hits in an effort to rally.

But that’s when Morales held strong to get out of the inning without any damage on the scoreboard, and then, in the ensuing half-inning, Christian Anaya drove in Shandon Herrera with an RBI single before Damien Aspeitia’s two-run double drove in Anaya and Jacob Munoz.

Aspeitia reached home plate later in the inning on an RBI groundout by Julian Jiminez to give Odessa High a 7-0 lead going into the fourth.

“We came out here fired up,” Morales said. “We came ready to play with lots of excitement, lots of energy. We were just ready to come out here and play and put our best foot forward.”

Tuesday’s win lifts Odessa High to 13-7 on the season and 3-1 in District 2-6A. Permian has dropped to 5-13, 0-4.

After the third, Morales didn’t allow another hit over the next three innings and the Bronchos took an 8-0 lead into the seventh.

“He had another good outing, and he’s been doing that every time we put him up there,” Odessa High head coach Josh Hulin said of Morales. “He’s been really consistent. He pounds the zone.”

And, in that potentially pivotal sequence in the third, Hulin said his pitcher was composed.

“There wasn’t any panic,” Hulin said of Morales. “It helps when you have a three-run lead, but he doesn’t panic up there. He just kind of sticks with the mentality of ‘This next pitch is the most important one.’

“I’m just real proud of his outing today.”

After Morales caught the lead runner at third to put down the first out in that sequence, Johnny Rodriguez hauled in a fly ball out to shallow right before Morales forced a routine infield groundout to get out of the inning.

“I just tried to stay focused, tried to pound the zone, and I knew that my guys would have my back,” Morales said. “Right there I just tried to throw as much strikes as I can, and rely on them, because I know that they’re always going to make the play behind me.”

Munoz finished 3 for 4 at the plate with two RBIs and two runs scored. He drove in Rodriguez on an RBI single in the bottom of the first to put the Bronchos on the board early, then the two connected again when Munoz drove in Rodriguez again on another RBI single in the bottom of the fourth to give the Bronchos their eighth and final run.

The Bronchos scored three runs on just one hit in that first frame. Rodriguez reached first base on an error before Munoz drove him in. Morales drew a walk at the plate and ultimately scored on a play featuring a second Panthers fielding error. Aspeitia pushed Munoz home on an RBI groundout.

“We executed hit-and-run. We did a lot of small ball,” Munoz said. “We put pressure on them. That’s what got them all rattled up and we scored runs off of that. We just kept pounding the ball.”

Hulin saw the same thing from the home dugout.

“We definitely want to put pressure on the defense,” Hulin said. “We like to think sometimes that we force the other team into making some mistakes, because we’re not a team that’s going to pound the ball and hit it off the wall or hit it over the fence by any means — but we’ve got some guys that are kind of scrappy and if we can string some quality at bats together like we did today, we can be successful.”

Odessa High returns to the diamond this Friday to play at Midland Lee. Permian will host Amarillo Tascosa, still searching for its first district victory.

“Good for coach Hulin,” Panthers head coach Jimmy Webster said after Tuesday’s loss. “They just came and got right after us and they deserve the win.

“We’re almost in our 20th game by now and we’re still tentative to swing at the plate,” he added. “We struggle fielding a ground ball, catching the ball. We’ve got a long way to go.”