VICTORIA— Cole Miears slowly descended from the mound as soon as Sharyland’s Saul Soto skied a fly ball toward the middle infield. He coolly pumped his fist when the ball sailed into Tivy shortstop Walker Grimes’ glove for the game’s final out.
That’s when Miears decided to ditch his calm demeanor, hurling his glove 10 feet into the air. The Antlers’ closer then sprinted toward the game’s winning pitcher, Brady Delgado, and two bumped chests in midair.
“Let’s go,” Miears screamed at Delgado.
“We were getting pretty loud,” Delgado said.
So were his teammates. They, too, were tossing hats and gloves onto the diamond of Victoria’s Riverside Park. They, too, were pouring out of Tivy’s dugout to embrace each other.
It was a celebration befitting of Tivy’s 4-3 win over Sharyland in Game 1 of the Regional-Semifinals series, where the Antlers’ rallied from a two-run deficit in the seventh to steal the series opener. Until the seventh, the Antlers (30-11) struggled stringing together hits against Sharyland starter Andy Lozano. Until the seventh, it looked like they were about to drop their third Game 1 this postseason.
Then all of a sudden, Colten Drake began the seventh with a lead-off single. Cooper Duennenberg followed with a triple to the right-centerfield gap. Stoney Rhodes tied the game with a double to left field. And Brady Delgado then lofted a two-out pop fly that Rattlers’ first baseman Martin Vazquez lost in the field lights, to plate the go-ahead run.
Neither Delgado nor Miears gave the Rattlers an opportunity to respond in the bottom of the frame. Delgado retired the first two batters before reaching the 110-pitch limit, handing the ball off to Miears to record the game’s final out. Miears gave up one single but induced a fly out in the next at-bat to complete the rally. The Antlers will try to win the series and secure a berth in the regional finals in Game 2 today at Cabaniss Field in Corpus Christi.
“This was a big team effort,” Tivy coach Chris Russ said. “It shows a lot about our guys. This is a close-knit group and they are playing like it. … Throughout that game, we never panicked. I never felt like our guys never let that sink in the dugout.”
And there were plenty of reasons to panic. The normally unflappable Delgado labored early, coughing up two runs in the second. His command was shaky, failing to consistently locate the strike zone.
Tivy’s batters experienced their own struggles. Lozano relied on his changeup to befuddle Tivy’s batters, baiting them into swinging at pitches outside the strike zone.
The Antlers, though, are familiar with adversity — they’ve lost six one-run games this year; they’ve dropped two Game 1’s during this playoff run. But more importantly, they know how to overcome it.
“It’s a been a year of things not going our way,” Delgado said. “You just have to keep on going, just chugging along.”
That’s exactly what they did. Miears unloaded on a fastball in the third, clobbering the 0-1 pitch over the left field wall to slice Sharyland’s lead to 2-1.
Delgado, meanwhile, depended on his defense to bolster him on the mound, with Tivy’s infield turning two double plays during the game. He also grew stronger as the game progressed. He allowed another run in the fifth, but nonetheless set the table for the Antlers to mount a late rally, holding the Rattlers to three runs in 6.2 innings.
“That guy, he grinded,” Russ said. “That was by far not his best stuff on the mound. … But he competed like no other. He’s just not going to give in and he never did.”
Tivy’s batters also adjusted late in the game. Russ noticed that Lozano had a tendency to begin at-bats with an off-speed pitch, so he instructed his players to lay off the first pitch and only swing at pitches that traveled into the heart of the strike zone. They listened. On the fourth pitch of his at-bat, Drake squeezed a single past the third baseman. Duennenberg then drove a 0-1 fastball over the centerfielder’s head to trim the deficit to 3-2. Two batters later, Rhodes stepped into the batter’s box with one out. Earlier, he asked Russ, “Coach, if he throws a fastball, please give me the opportunity to get a rip and jump on the first-pitch fastball.”
Sure enough, Lozano served him fastball to begin the at-bat, and he pounced on it for a double to left field to tie the game. Rhodes later scored himself when Vazquez couldn’t snag Delgado’s two-out pop fly, helping the Antlers snag an improbable victory. The Tivy fans who made the three-hour trek to Victoria gave the Antlers a standing ovation as they left the field. They are hoping for another reason to celebrate today in Corpus Christi.
“We just had to fight until we got our opportunity,” Russ said. “We finally got our opportunity in the end, and we came through in the clutch. It was good to see from our guys.”
(Sharyland) is a very good ball club, the best ball club we have played all year. They aren’t going to lay down for us. We have to come out ready to go tomorrow. It will be another good one.”