Tivy's Braden Jaeger, 21, rounds third on his way home after hitting a homerun Saturday against Sharyland.

CORPUS CHRISTI— Brady Delgado slowly removed his batting helmet while Sharlyand’s players rushed out of their dugout to celebrate, and trudged toward the left-field line to greet his Tivy teammates.

During his walk, he tried to hold back his tears, eventually crouching on both knees and burying his head in his hands. This wasn’t how he envisioned his Tivy career ending. He had experienced a great four years with the Antlers, providing so many memorable moments, producing so many special plays.

He wished he had made at least one more. During Saturday’s decisive Game 3, he marched into the batter’s box with Tivy trailing by a run in the eighth, with runners on second and third and two outs. It would have been poetic if the Antlers’ leader had delivered the walk-off hit, instantly giving his team a series victory in the regional semifinals. But life doesn’t allow follow a perfect script. Instead, Delgado drove a 1-1 pitch to right field that sailed into the glove of Sharlyland’s right fielder Chase Gerlach for the game’s final out, sealing the Rattlers’ 4-3, win over the Antlers at Cabaniss Field. After rallying to seize a 4-3 victory in Game 1 in Victoria on Friday night, The Antlers (30-13) continued to struggle in Corpus Christi, falling, 7-3, in Game 2 and then losing Game 3 in eight innings, marking the third straight year that their season has ended in Corpus.

Delgado’s teammates exchanged turns tearfully embracing their senior leader on Saturday evening. Tivy coach Chris Russ consoled Delgado with a reminder, “It’s been a heck of a year.”

“I am going to miss that guy,” said Russ, wiping a tear from his eye. “He’s been with us for a long time, and he will be tough to replace.”

Russ is going to miss all of four graduating seniors (Delgado, Braden Jaeger, Caleb Portillo and Cary Easley). And for good reason. Delgado was sensational as the Antlers’ ace, posting a 1.97 ERA in 81.2 innings this year. Jaeger had raked at the plate this season, and was strong again on Saturday, smoking a home run in Game 2 and filling in behind the plate in Game 3 when starting catcher Travis White suffered heat exhaustion late in Game 2. Portillo and Easley didn’t receive much playing time this season, but kept team morale high, doing anything Russ asked them to help the team win.

“It was a good group of seniors, overall,” Russ said. “(Portillo and Easley)s never complained; they never had issues off the field. They were just good wholesome kids. Those are the kids you want in your program.”

Unfortunately for Tivy, those four seniors didn’t receive a perfect ending to their Tivy careers. The Antlers didn’t play poorly on Saturday — far from it. They produced 12 hits in Game 2, and registered 11 in the final game. They just continued to squander opportunities with runners in scoring position. They left nine runners on base in Game 2, which ultimately helped the Rattlers pull away in the final innings. And they stranded 12 base runners in Game 3, placing runners in scoring position in the final seven innings.

“I didn’t know it was that bad,” Russ said. “We just didn’t come through with any big hits. … We just didn’t quite execute when we needed to.”

Still, Tivy kept fighting. Both Colten Drake, and then Cole Miears battled on the mound, holding the Rattlers’ dangerous lineup to four hits in eight innings. The Antlers trailed, 2-0, until Delgado roped a two-run single to centerfield in the third. They fell behind, 3-2, in the fifth, until Abel evened the score in the sixth with a triple to the right-field gap.

But the Antlers could never quite earn that lead. Miears grounded out to the shortstop to strand Abel at third to end the sixth. In the seventh, the Antlers had runners at first and second with one out, but Sharlyand relief pitcher Gerlach induced two consecutive grounders to end the threat.

Then, Delgado had a chance to complete another rally in his Tivy career with two outs in the eighth. He noticed that Gerlach, now playing in right field in the eighth, had shifted toward centerfield, so he tried to poke a hit along the right-field line.

It was the right idea; it just wasn’t Tivy’s day.

“He just didn’t quite get it over there,” Russ said. “He hits it 10 more feet to the right and we win the game. It’s just a game of inches.”

But one disappointing day shouldn’t overshadow the Antlers’ season. They graduated three Division-I players (Lance Ford, Hunter Grimes and Milan Walla) from last year and still won 30 games. Most people in Kerrville didn’t expect them to move past the second round, they advanced to the regional semifinals for the third straight year.

And they have a chance to be even better next year, returning 10 players who played a critical role this season. Those 10 players improved throughout the season and should be even better next season after playing a summer of select travel ball

But Delgado and Jaeger will be tough starters to replace, and the Antlers know it. After Russ had finished talking to the team one last time this season, he asked Delgado to break the team huddle for the final time. Delgado then boarded Tivy’s bus, ready for one final ride with his Tivy teammates.“

"I have a met a lot of amazing guys a long the way,” Delgado said. “I had fantastic coaching from coach Miears and coach Russ. “It’s better than what I could ask for honestly. These guys helped me grow and I now get to go to the next level to play ball. … I have something to look forward to.”

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