The Odessa College baseball team finished the weekend right where it started — tied for first in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference standings with Midland College after a doubleheader split Friday at Christensen Stadium.
The Wranglers won the opener 8-4 before the Chaparrals bounced back to take the nightcap 16-6 in five innings. It was the second day in a row the rivals split a doubleheader when a sweep would have meant sole possession of first place.
"We've got to pitch better, that's it," Odessa College coach Kurtis Lay said. "We lose two games. In Game 2 (Thursday), we gave them a four-spot. Today, their bats were pretty quiet and all of a sudden we woke them up for them there in Game 4."
Midland College coach Hector Rodriguez said the outcome wasn't very surprising in what is becoming an increasingly tight race at the top of the conference. By splitting the series, Odessa College (31-15 overall, 21-7 WJCAC) and Midland College (30-16, 21-7) dropped into a three-way tie for the conference lead with New Mexico Junior College, which won three of four in its series against Clarendon College.
"It's just two good teams going at it," Rodriguez said. "The games you won, you took advantage of opportunities. The games you lost, they took advantage of opportunities.
"Those are signs of good teams and there's a reason we're at the top of the league. We can all pitch, hit and play defense a little bit. It's just going to be, on the positive side, who takes advantage those people who don't take advantage of their opportunities.
"It's like playing blackjack. You like that 21, and then the dealer gets a 21 and it's like, 'Dang it, we pushed.'"
In the opener, Ivan Melendez hit a grand slam in the seventh inning to break a 4-4 tie and Noah Brown worked 4.1 hitless innings in relief. Harry Fullerton and Kyler Castillo also homered for the Wranglers.
Brown took over in the third inning for starter Chandler Arnold and allowed just three base runners the rest of the way. He struck out seven and walked one.
"Noah's been great all year," Lay said. "He's our bullpen right now. We've got about eight other guys that we've got to figure out how to get them going because you can't ride one bullpen arm out for four-game sets."
Castillo, who reached base four times, reached on an error to lead off the game and Fullerton connected off Midland College starter Garrett Egli to give the Wranglers a 2-0 lead.
The Chaps got a run back in the bottom of the inning on Ethan Mann's sacrifice fly after Arnold walked the bases loaded. In the third, Christian Baumgartner singled in the tying run and Midland College went up 4-2 on Ryan Hunt's two-run single.
Odessa College's Gullio Monello, who went 3 for 3, singled in a run in the fourth and Castillo led off the fifth with a home run to tie it.
In the seventh, Monello led off with a single and was bunted to second before Castillo was intentionally walked. Troy Lincavage came on in relief of Egli and walked T.J. Tomlinson before giving up Melendez's blast.
"It meant a lot (to win Game 1)," Melendez said. "You never want to fall behind your rival.
"I was struggling all weekend long and felt like I had to do something. That was my job. I was the right batter for that moment. I was happy I came through for my team. We got the win and that's all that matters."
Hunt finished 2 for 3 and Jordan Billups was 2 for 4 for Midland College.
Egli was charged with six runs on seven hits over 6.1 innings in taking the loss.
After striking out 12 times in the first game, the Chaps pounded out 20 hits against four Odessa College pitchers in the second. Midland College trailed 4-1 before scoring eight runs in the third and seven runs in the fifth to end the game early.
Midland College's Deylan Pigford hit three-run home runs in each big inning, ending the game on the second blast.
Every batter in the Chaps' lineup had at least one hit and one run scored. Pigford led the way, going 3 for 5 with six RBIs. Billups was 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles and four RBIs, while Baumgartner was 2 for 4 with three RBIs.
Garrett Wilkinson, Mann and Randy Huerta also had three-hit games for the Chaps.
After the teams traded runs in the first, Odessa College chased Midland College starter Ashton Mansur in the third, scoring three runs on four hits. Three of the hits were doubles.
Wranglers starter Connor Carlton was unable to hold the lead as the Chaps sent 12 batters to the plate in the bottom of the inning. The first nine reached base, capped by Pigford's first homer.
Melendez singled in two runs in the fourth to get the Wranglers within 9-6, but the Chaps batted around again in the fifth with Pigford's second home run ending the game.
Midland College reliever Chandler Eaton picked up the win with 2.1 innings in relief.
ARTICLE BY- SAM WALLER: ODESSA AMERICAN