No. 19 Odessa College Prepares For Crucial Weekend Series With Rival No. 11 Midland College

No. 19 Odessa College Prepares For Crucial Weekend Series With Rival No. 11 Midland College

It didn't take long for the No. 19 Wranglers to put that motto into effect as they won their first three series — and a total of six — against conference opponents.

However, the Wranglers are faced with their most significant series, which begins at noon Friday at American Legion Park, against No. 11 Midland College for the conference championship and the WJCAC's No. 1 seed at the Region V Tournament.

"It's going to be the most important series of the season," Odessa College right fielder Kyler Castillo said. "They are all important, but this is for the conference championship and the No. 1 and 2 spots. We are going to have to pitch really well and we are going to have to hit like we've been hitting."

Midland College holds a two-game lead over Odessa College in the conference standings.

The Chaparrals are 39-13 overall, 27-5 in the WJCAC, while the Wranglers sit 40-11 and 25-7. Odessa College picked up a game on Midland College over the weekend when the Wranglers swept El Paso Community College and the Chaparrals won 3 of 4 against Western Texas College.

Odessa College and Midland College are both guaranteed spots in the Region V Tournament, but the current No. 2 through 4 seeds are each separated by one game. New Mexico Junior College enters its final weekend at 24-8 in conference play, while Howard College is 23-9.

"A goal of ours all year has been not only make the postseason, but give yourself a chance to win a conference championship," Odessa College head coach Kurtis Lay said. "We were fortunate to win four games last weekend and they dropped one. Realistically to accomplish that goal, we need to go win a series."

The Wranglers and Chaparrals split their two nonconference contests during the regular season.

Odessa College squeaked out a 15-14 victory on March 7 at American Legion Park, while Midland College rolled to an 11-2 win on March 29 at Christensen Stadium.

Yet, the Wranglers or Chaparrals never sent their top pitchers to the mound in either of the two nonconference contests. Odessa College's top three pitchers include Connor Queen, Chandler Casey and Matteo Bocchi. The trio have combined for 174 innings and accumulated a 20-7 record. Midland College's is bolstered by Jon Nicholson, Brock Barger and Callan Johnson — each have thrown more than 62 innings and compiled a 26-3 record.

"We are definitely gearing up," said Queen, who holds a 9-1 record on the mound with a team-high 63 innings and 68 strikeouts. "Everyone is getting mentally ready to play the best brand of baseball that we have. We are definitely looking forward to it."

Though the position players haven't faced each team's top pitchers this season, the pitching staffs have seen plenty of them.

Odessa College and Midland College hold two of the top offenses in the country. The Wranglers lead NJCAA Division I with a team batting average of .402, while the Chaparrals sit ninth (.348). Both teams score more than 10 runs per game and each has supplied 200 extra base hits.

Midland College right fielder Eric Senior and Odessa College freshman catcher Mitch Holding sit in the top 20 of home run leaders in the NJCAA Division I at 10th (17) and 17th (15), respectively. Angel Torres — the Wranglers starting third baseman — has nine triples, while Hill Alexander and Nolan Rattai of Midland College each have 19 doubles.

"It's going to make for a great series," said Castillo, who has a .425 average with 13 doubles, three triples, two home runs, 53 RBIs and 54 runs scored in 186 at bats. "Both teams have been playing really well. Both are ranked nationally. It's going to be a great series and definitely one to go see."

In their most recent series, the Wranglers were forced to erase a pair of early leads from the Tejanos during Friday's doubleheader. Odessa College outscored El Paso Community College 26-3 after the Tejanos plated their first runs of the each contest.

 Lay was disappointed with the team's effort during Friday's doubleheader last weekend, but the talented group managed to weave its way to four straight wins. The Odessa College head coach knows the team can't make those same miscues against Midland College.

"We do have a talented club almost to fault where you can go out and kind of go through the motions at times and still give yourself a chance to win a game," Lay said. "When you face a good team like Midland College, like any of the teams that we are going to face here on out the rest of the season, you can't afford to give up an at bat must less an entire inning."

Article by Royal McGregor OA