MADERA – Following a four-hit, 10-strikeout performance and a 6-3 County/Metro Athletic Conference win over Memorial High on Tuesday, Madera senior Jimmy Brager stood in the infield and let it rip: "My mentality is I'm not going to lose another game."
If that wasn't bold enough, consider how far that mentality has come in 11 months.
Consider the same Jimmy Brager walking off the mound at Centennial last May in tears, clutching his burning right elbow and a bleeding heart telling him the gem he just threw against the favored Golden Hawks was probably his last: "I was thinking, 'My career's done, and what am I going to do? What does life have for me now?' I mean, I'm not the brightest kid in school."
Having played on the varsity since he was a freshman, Brager felt his elbow pop in a game in which he had three-hit third-seeded Centennial and left with a 3-1, sixth-inning lead in the Central Section Division I quarterfinal.
The 11th-seeded Coyotes would lose to the Hawks 4-3.
Then the question: Would they also lose Brager for his senior season?
That seemed even more likely, following three months of rehabilitation, when he tore the same elbow muscle making a throw from third base in a showcase event in September: "I'm thinking, 'What are the odds of this happening again?' I had to start again from zero."
Fast forward to Tuesday in a game matching first-place teams with 4-1 CMAC records.
"God has blessed me, He's answered everything I've asked for and I couldn't be happier," Brager said after a dominant finish -- giving up one hit and striking out six in the final four innings as the Coyotes rallied from a 3-0 deficit.
He is 4-1 for an 11-4 team that clearly is better fit for the CMAC after going 11-35 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference his first three seasons.
Still, Brager was named All-TRAC as a junior. And now he is on an MVP pace in the CMAC, helped also by his bat, which delivered an RBI double to close the scoring against Memorial (9-7), which beat him 5-2 in the league's first round.
Beyond the CMAC, Madera also should challenge the likes of Frontier and Clovis North for the section D-II title after being lowered a division this season.
And the Coyotes are expected to get a boost in three weeks with the return of Trent Hinkle, who would have been the No. 2 starter, but has thrown only three innings because of elbow tendonitis.