Somewhere along the way to 16 wins in 16 games to start the WJCAC schedule, the Odessa College softball team may have forgotten what it's like to be pushed.
After nearly a month of rolling over opponents, and of rarely ever even trailing on the scoreboard in that time, it's possible the Lady Wranglers forgot how to handle adversity — or, simply, how to take a figurative kick in the teeth.
If so, consider Friday a rude reminder.
Howard College blasted Odessa College 12-0 and 9-0 in a pair of run-rule knockouts Friday afternoon at the OC Softball Complex, dethroning the Lady Wranglers and dropping them from their seat atop the WJCAC standings.
Odessa College entered the weekend ranked No. 9 nationally and holding a perfect record in conference play, but fell to 16-2 in the WJCAC and 30-11 overall while Howard College took over first place at 17-1 in league play and 34-11 overall.
A week after the Lady Wranglers emerged in sole possession of first place by sweeping rival Midland College, Howard College took up its chance to snatch that away — and Odessa College offered it up to them, said head coach Karina Cannon, citing complacency that she saw in her team's performance Friday.
"We certainly got what we deserved," Cannon said after the losses. "We weren't the same high-energy, ready-to-execute, focused team that we were last week against Midland.
"We came out here literally on our heels expecting to just walk into a win."
Howard College proved that wouldn't be enough early in the day's opener, when the Hawks pushed five runs across in the top of the second inning — almost immediately pitting the Lady Wranglers with the largest deficit they've faced since conference play opened in mid-March.
In the top of the third, the Hawks' Kaylynn Lopez lifted a solo home run over the left-field wall to make it 6-0. Then, in the top of the fourth, Lopez stepped back to the plate to blast a two-run homer over the fence and make it 8-0.
Howard College pushed four runs across in the top of the fifth to give the game its final score, after the Hawks' Celeste Villagrana completed the shutout in the bottom of the fifth.
The Lady Wranglers fared better on defense in the day's second game, as both teams battled through a scoreless first four innings.
But in the top of the fifth, the floodgates opened for the Hawks, who scored nine runs in that frame on their way to closing out another victory.
Odessa College couldn't put together a response on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth, failing to prevent another run-rule defeat — continuing a trend Cannon saw all day.
In both games, it seemed the Lady Wranglers were left unable to respond when Howard College made its big move.
"I think what we did was we got a little tense and we pressed too much in order to try and execute," Cannon said.
Odessa College put two pitchers in the circle in each game, but Howard College found success against all four Lady Wranglers. The Hawks knocked around nine hits in the first game. In the second game, Odessa College pitcher Brittany Kennett held the Hawks scoreless through four, but Howard College eventually opened that game up, too, with its big rally in the top of the fifth.
"Howard, they played well," Cannon said. "They always swing the bat hard. We really prepared for that, and I feel that we just didn't compete as a pitching staff like we normally do.
"I think they got a little bit intimidated by their physical size and it just got the better of us. We need to learn from that."
Cannon said she thought Howard College's big bats got into the heads of the Lady Wranglers' pitchers.
Unlike teams like Odessa College and Midland College, who often turn to small ball in efforts to manufacture runs during games, Howard College presents power hitters all throughout its lineup.
The Lady Wranglers pitchers often work to put the ball in play to allow the defense to record outs in the field, but Friday as they stared down some of those Howard College hitters like Lopez, who hit those two homers in the first game, Cannon said she thought the Lady Wranglers became wary of throwing into the strike zone.
"They weren't competing like normal in the zone," Cannon said. "They weren't spinning the ball through the zone. They were trying to miss too much. They were trying to hope that they get ground balls and pop flies, just off simply not throwing it over the plate.
"But they're not going to swing. They're good hitters. So it's something we need to work on for the future."
The Lady Wranglers will look to bounce back when the weekend series shifts to Big Spring. Odessa College will visit Howard College for another doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. today.
Now that they've been knocked down, the Lady Wranglers can find out just how well they manage to climb back up.
"I'm certainly glad it happened, because I think it knocked us off our perch, and that's what needed to happen for a successful future," Cannon said.
Article by Justin Lee OA