HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL: Odessa High set for season opener with Alpine

Odessa High softball coach Rachel Pena saw some good things during her team’s scrimmages with Seminole and Alpine last week.

Moving players in to replace others that have moved on through graduation, Pena was able to watch the Lady Bronchos start to gel as a team — just in time.

Odessa High opens its 2017 season at 5 p.m. today when it hosts Alpine at The Corral at the Ratliff Softball Complex.

Weather permitting, of course.

The Lady Bronchos, who advanced to the Class 6A area playoffs a season ago, will then travel, Thursday through Saturday, to compete at the Mansfield ISD Tournament.

“I’m excited about the season,” Pena said Monday as her team took batting practice indoors because of persistent rain. “We have a lot of seniors back, more than I usually have, and they all have experience.”

Leading the way is right-hander starter Elva Castillo, a four-year member of the Lady Bronchos’ varsity and a workhorse for Pena last season.

Also back is batterymate Cami Deanda, a steadying influence for Castillo behind the plate, along with being someone that is capable of changing a game with one swing on offense.

Another trio of seniors, Alizea Garza, Andrea Molinar and Deja Luna, are expected to help Odessa High battle for another trip to the postseason.

“We have a great group of seniors,” Pena said. “They all work hard and know what’s expected of them and they’ve had success.

“All that helps.”

A key addition for the Lady Bronchos, defensively, will be Novalyn Ontiveros in right field.

Used primarily as a pinch runner in 2016, Ontiveros’ speed gave Pena plenty of options when on the basepaths. This season, Ontiveros, a junior, will move to right field after the graduation of Caitlyn Keese, another speedster.

Pena also has turned Ontiveros around at the plate, teaching her how to hit from the left side to be able to slap the ball into the ground and use her speed to reach first base safely.

“We turned her around last year and she’s gotten much better,” Pena said. “She’s the fastest on the team, maybe even a little faster that Keese was last year, and we need to use that to our advantage.”

Odessa High also is going to have to use its postseason experience to its advantage as the new alignment of District 2-6A saw longtime members Abilene High and San Angelo Central replaced with Amarillo Tascosa and Wolfforth Frenship.

A Frenship team that advanced to the Class 6A regional semifinals last season.

“It’s always tough in our district and with Frenship it just got tougher,” Pena said. “With us, Permian, Midland High, Midland Lee, Frenship and Tascosa, there are going to be two good teams that don’t make the playoffs.

“Every game is going to be that much more important.”