The varying and nagging injuries Gracie Jaeger has endured haven’t overwhelmed her. But while going through ‘Senior Night’ festivities Thursday, the most productive hitter in Branson’s history on the diamond conceded to her emotions.
Jaeger had tears flowing down her cheeks after the Lady Pirates’ 6-4 victory over Buffalo, the home finale for Branson’s five seniors.
“I’ve been with so many girls who have gone through here and I’ve always been like, ‘I’m going to cry so hard when everyone else graduates,’” Jaeger said. “Now, everyone’s been saying to me, ‘I’m so nervous for your Senior Night and I can’t believe it’s Senior Night.’ I was like, ‘Whatever.’ But it’s hitting me now. It’s so for real.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunities softball has given me. Seeing how it possibly could be coming to an end is hard.”
Jaeger’s senior season hasn’t been a dream season to this point. She’s dealt with injuries to one of her feet and a knee and a bout with the flu caused her to stay at home for one day of the Branson Tournament.
“My foot was bothering me at the beginning of the season and now a knee has been bothering me,” she said. “It’s from constantly being on the go, nothing serious, just aches all the time.”
“The last thing she wants to do is not play or make an excuse,” Branson coach Kent Doyle said. “She’s fighting it, as well as a few others. They’re competitors and want to play.”
Jaeger already had proven she can play in pain before this season. Last winter during basketball season, she fractured an elbow, but continued to be a defensive dynamo during the Lady Pirates’ memorable post-season run.
“I love the game so much and all the girls I play with that it’s worth it to push through (injuries),” Jaeger said. “When I’m playing, I don’t think about being hurt.”
Branson returned home after a 3-2 run at the Cracker Jack Springfield Tournament last weekend. But the Lady Pirates didn’t sustain the momentum they had gained, committing seven errors while slipping past Buffalo.
“That’s not the way you want to be playing,” Doyle said. “We know that when we commit errors, it makes it that much harder to win games. When we cut down on the errors, winning comes a lot easier. We’ve yet to put a game together in which we’ve cut out our errors and had timely hits. We’re hoping that will happen before Districts start.
“We hit the ball well last weekend. The girls had timely hitting. I think they surprised themselves by coming through with timely hits. We also played defense when we had to. For that reason, we were able to win three in a row.
“We thought we had turned the tide. But there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Along with Jaeger, Branson honored seniors Lauren Garrison, Katy Holt Payton Rhodes and Britton Ellis. Jaeger and Garrison have started since they were freshmen.
“I didn’t start crying until I saw Lauren,” Jaeger said. “We’ve spent a lot of time together and have gone through so much together. We both get to finish it off together, after always being there for each other.”