OXFORD, Alabama (KMID/KPEJ) – After a 3-0 start in the NJCAA Softball World Series, one-seed Odessa College softball lost two consecutive semifinal games to finish the 2023 season in third place. This is the second consecutive season with third-place finishes for the Wranglers.
In the winner’s bracket semifinal matchup Friday, Odessa faced the two-seed Florida SouthWestern State College, the two-time defending national champions and the team that eliminated Odessa in 2022’s national semifinal.
The Wranglers committed several uncharacteristic mistakes in the circle and on defense, allowing the Buccaneers to take a 4-0 lead in the third inning. The miscues continued for Odessa in the fourth inning. SouthWestern scored six more in the fourth inning and one in the fifth. The Wranglers had no answer, losing only their second game of the season by mercy rule, 11-0.
“We ran into a very tough Florida SouthWestern team that plays their style of ball nearly perfect and it put a halt to our momentum. We just couldn’t get the magic going again in time,” head coach Jeff Jackson said.
The loss snapped the Wranglers’ 32-game win streak and sent the top-seed Odessa to the loser’s bracket semifinal game to face Northwest Florida State College, which Odessa beat Friday in the quarterfinals.
The Wranglers got in another four-run deficit, this time in the second inning. Two of Odessa’s most consistent bats tried to chip away at the deficit in the late innings. Clarisa Zapata hit a two-run home run to cut the Raiders’ lead in half in the fifth inning. It was Zapata’s 21st home run of the year, a team-high.
Camryn Milley batted in her second run of the weekend in the sixth inning to get within one run. But the Raiders’ halted the Wranglers’ comeback attempt to upset the top seed 5-3 and advance to the national championship.
“It didn’t end like we hoped but we were never afraid to give it everything we had with no guarantee of success,” Jackson said. “Winning a National Championship is never easy.”
The 2023 season was marked by history for Odessa College softball. The team went unbeaten against conference opponents both in the regular season and the conference tournament, 27-0.
On April 29 after sweeping El Paso Community College, head coach Jeff Jackson eclipsed 300 career wins as a head coach.
Between March 15 and May 26, the Wranglers won 32 consecutive games, 22 of which were won by mercy rule.
Odessa College became the No. 1 nationally ranked team for the first time in school history in week nine of the season after spending the entirety of the season in the top 10.
11 Wranglers were first-team all-conference selections including Odessa’s entire regular starting lineup. Emily Brouse was named the Western Junior College Athletic Conference MVP and Coach Jackson was named WJCAC coach of the year.
First-team honorees included: Clarisa Zapata (3B), Kawehi Ili (SS), Ari Ybarra (2B), Camryn Milley (1B), Brooke Nauman (RF), Kaya Lee (LF), Ariel Gomez (CF), Morgan Dutton (C), Bradi Hill (C), Rayna Cruickshanks (P) and Brouse (P).
“I’m proud of this team and proud of their accomplishments on and off the field,” Jackson said, also noting how his sophomore class last season was the Academic Team of the Year with an average GPA of 3.80.
In his sixth season at the helm, Coach Jackson led Odessa to its third consecutive national tournament.
The Wranglers are losing 13 sophomores to graduation, which includes its entire regular starting lineup and starting rotation in the circle.
Several current Odessa College players have committed to continue their softball careers at a higher level next season including Kawehi Ili who will play at NCAA DI New Mexico and Clarisa Zapata who will stay in the Lone Star State to play at UT Tyler.
“This program continues to move in the right direction thanks to the hard work that our players put in daily to leave it better than they found it,” Jackson said. “Above all else, I hope I have taught these young women skills that will help them as they move on to bigger and better opportunities and lessons they will carry with them the rest of their lives.”
Odessa College finished the 2023 season 54-6 overall.