Baseball Downs Midland College To Capture WJCAC Championship

Baseball Downs Midland College To Capture WJCAC Championship

Odessa College right-hander Chandler Casey delivered his pitch, sending his team's championship dream whizzing to the plate.

Grant Jones saw it fire back up the middle at the crack of the bat — and he dove after it, leaping to knock it down as it hurtled toward the gap.

He picked that dream out of his glove, and flipped it to the second-base bag.

And when it fell into Masen Hibbeler's mitt — just as the rest of the Wranglers baseball team poured out of the dugout to leap for joy in the infield — that dream was realized.

With that out, Odessa College clinched its first conference championship in 17 years.

Odessa College downed rival Midland College 9-6 on the final afternoon of the regular season Saturday to clinch the WJCAC championship, and prompt Casey, Jones, Hibbeler and all the rest to pile together in celebration on the infield at Christensen Stadium in Midland.

"It's hard to put into words," Casey said of that moment.

"It feels, honestly, indescribable. It feels great."

After clinching it with that win, the Wranglers went on to win the second half of the day's doubleheader 14-8 later in the afternoon to claim to the title outright.

No. 19 Odessa College entered Saturday's doubleheader finale with No. 11 Midland College tied with the Chaparrals at the top of the WJCAC standings — holding two wins in the series and knowing one more win would lift the Wranglers to a series victory and to ownership of a tiebreaker at the top even in the event of a Saturday split.

With the championship hanging in the balance, the Wranglers rose to the occasion.

"I just couldn't be more proud of the guys," Odessa College head coach Kurtis Lay said.

The Wranglers captured the Odessa College baseball program's first conference championship since 2000.

"This is all we worked in the fall for, right here," Casey said. "This is everything — the blood, sweat and tears, put into that right there.

"It feels amazing."

Casey pitched a complete game in that title-clinching opener, admitting later in the afternoon that he felt fatigue and the pressure of sealing a potential championship weighing on his throwing arm in the bottom of the seventh of the seven-inning outing.

Odessa College led 9-5 going into that bottom half of that final frame. Midland College loaded the bases and sent the potential tying run into the batter's box with one out.

But the Wranglers kept their confidence in Casey, trusting his arm as he remained on the mound.

One run scored on the next at-bat, when the Wranglers scooped up a ground ball to force an out at second but the Chaparrals beat out the throw to first on the double play bid to stay alive.

That's when Jones, at second base, made his diving stop and flipped the ball up to Hibbeler as he crossed in from shortstop to end the game.

The win capped a tumultuous regular season for Odessa College, which saw the Wranglers flying as high as to holding a No. 2 ranking in the NJCAA's national rankings at one point in late March, before crashing right out of the top 10 when they lost the ensuing series.

Saturday, they captured a championship that can't be taken away from them.

"I'm just happy for everybody," Lay said. "These guys have worked extremely hard. These guys have fought through a lot of adversity.

"They've stuck together throughout the entire thing."

Midland College held a 5-3 lead after four innings in Saturday's opener, before Odessa College battled back to score four runs in the top of the fifth.

Hibbeler blasted a two-run double to right field to start that rally. Hibbeler scored later on a double by Mitch Holding, before Andrew Morales crossed home on an RBI groundout to put Odessa College up 7-5.

Just after that, in the bottom of the fifth, Casey pitched a statement-making inning, striking out the first two he faced before forcing the third batter to fly out to left field for a 1-2-3 inning.

Midland College threatened again in the seventh, but Casey held on to pick up the victory.

"It was a heck of an outing by Chandler," Lay said. "It was back and forth, and he gave up some tough hits, and he didn't let it get to him and he came back.

"In that situation, you feel comfortable with him on the mound," Lay said of Casey pitching the game-deciding seventh inning. "I know he started to get a little fatigued, started to get a little tired, but there's nobody else that I would want out there, and I feel like the guys feel the same way."

Casey is one of several returning sophomores for Odessa College back from a 28-28 season last year, which saw the Wranglers finish in sixth place in the conference.

"This means so much, especially for the sophomores that came back this year," Casey said. "We literally came from nothing. Everybody counted us out, and to just have the year this year and end it on that note and going into regionals — it's amazing. I love it."

Morales hit two home runs in that first win. The Wranglers' bats stayed hot in the finale, as Odessa College rolled up 19 hits to break the tie at the top of the league standings to end the season.

"To win that last one to make it an outright conference championship — it's pretty cool," Morales said.

"It makes it even sweeter."

Article by OA