JOURDANTON — After driving in the go-ahead run in the eighth, senior right fielder Braden Jaeger planted both feet on second base, beamed at the cheering Tivy fans behind home plate and executed two fist pumps.
Walking toward the batter’s box, sophomore catcher Travis White pounded his chest as he hollered, “Let’s go, Jaeg! Way to be clutch!”
White wasn’t the only person eager to congratulate Jaeger in Jourdanton on Saturday. Six or seven fans approached him after the Antlers’ 4-1, eight-inning victory over Alamo Heights in the area round to commend him for his performance during Game 2’s series-clinching win. Tivy football coach David Jones gave him a pat on the back and said, “Way to come through tonight; I’m proud of you.” Tivy baseball coach Chris Russ dished a high five and yelled, “You’re the man.”
Jaeger was the man on Saturday. He dropped hints throughout the season he was capable of delivering the performance he gave against the Mules. He had posted a career-best .388 batting average this season and had been hitting .459 since April 2.
“He’s had a really solid year,” Russ said.
On Saturday, he was phenomenal, helping the Antlers (27-10) clinch a berth in the regional quarterfinals for the third-straight year (where they will play Dripping Springs). He recorded four hits in all four at-bats, including a RBI double in the eighth to plate Cole Miears for the winning run. He produced a game-saving play for Tivy in the bottom of the seventh. With the score tied 1-1 and Heights’ Billy Conn standing on second, Hunter Campbell singled to right field. Heights’ third base coach motioned Conn toward home plate. Jaegar, though, caught Campbell’s liner on one hop and launched a perfect throw to White, who tagged Conn out to deny the Mules a walk-off victory.
In the next frame, the Antlers capitalized on the new life that Jaeger had given them, scoring three runs in the eighth to seal yet another Tivy win over Heights.
So yeah, there was a good reason everyone wanted to track down Jaeger after Saturday’s game and congratulate him.
“The feeling (I have) is indescribable right now,” Jaeger said. “It just feels so nice to come through for my teammates. Everybody hates Heights, so this feels awesome."
Before Saturday turned into the Braden Jaeger show, it was sophomore hurler Coleson Abel who kept the Antlers afloat. White gave Abel an early lead, squeezing a single past second base to score Delgado in the first, but the Antlers didn’t plate another run for six innings.That was OK, though, because Abel made sure the Mules didn’t score either, limiting their batters to four hits in 4.2 innings.
“What can you say about Coleson Abel?” Russ said. “He went out and really pitched well for us. Last week (against LBJ), his off-speed stuff carried him. Today, his fastball carried him. He really threw the fastball well and he was throwing it by him and spotting up well.”
He began to labor in the fifth, issuing three walks to load the bases with two outs. Russ decided to hand the ball off to Miears, who immediately extinguished the threat, inducing Campbell to pop out to Jaeger for the third out.
Heights continued pressing, placing a runner in scoring position in three straight innings. They finallyplated a run in the seventh when Adam Parker singled to drive in Henry Tyng to even the score. Then for a moment, it looked like Campbell was going to deliver the walk-off, and that Tivy was going to have to play a third game to decide the series.
Jaeger had other ideas. He admitted afterwards he didn’t want spend another three hours in Jourdanton, so he zipped a laser to home plate.
“He should get player of the game for that,” White said. “That throw was perfect. (Heights) had all the momentum in that momentum and Jaeger shut them down. It was awesome.”
Jaeger definitely cemented “Player of the game” honors in the eighth. With runners on the corners and one out, Heights’ reliever Jackson Veale fed Jaeger an inside fastball. His eyes widened as he saw the ball spins toward him; he drove the offering to the right-centerfield gap for a RBI double. After White had finished pounding his chest, he gave the Antlers some insurance, clobbering a 1-0 fastball off the left-field wall for a two-run double.
“We had a little adversity,” White said. “Throughout the whole game, Heights wasn’t hitting so we just sat back. Once they hit, we were like, ‘OK, we better get going.’ … We came up clutch.”
Miears then retired the side in the eighth. Fittingly, Jaeger snagged the game’s final out.
Once they had boarded the bus, the Antlers continued their season-long tradition of playing music after wins, pumping DJ Khaled’s “All I Do is Win” over their portable speakers. Jaeger has a reputation for attempting crowd dives during these musical jams. But often times, his teammates neglect to carry him and he jsut plunges on the seats.
But after his performance on Saturday, they might just have to catch him.
“I am just going to be stage diving probably every 20 seconds,” Jaeger said. “I am going to get up there on the seats, jump off, get up as fast as I can and jump down again. It’s going to be a good time.”