CLEMSON -- Kevin Brady was not alone as he trotted from the bullpen to the cauldron that was the pitcher's mound at raucous Plainsman Park on Monday.
In pursuit of his first save, in the season's most critical moment, Brady recalled his father's encouraging voice: "Stay calm. ... It's just you and the catcher."
Brady entered the game in the seventh and threw three shutout innings. He struck out three and did not walk a batter, securing a regional title and this weekend's Clemson Super Regional.
After Brady induced Auburn's Trent Mummey to ground out to first for the final out -- escaping from a bases-loaded jam -- an on-field mosh pit began bobbing around Brady. The moment was a high point after a trying year, coping with the death of his father, John.
Clemson coach Jack Leggett nearly called upon Brady the previous evening to close out a game, electing to stay with veteran Tomas Cruz. The result was a three-run, game-winning home run for Auburn. Brady said he was ready then. He's faced more difficult scenarios. He was ready Monday.
"He's really improved, he's gone through a lot of things," Leggett said. "I'm really proud of how he has come along. He lost his dad last spring. That was a tough thing on him. He wasn't in a great place for most the spring for us (last season). Now his confidence level is high and he feels good about what he's doing."
Last spring a grieving Brady, a true freshman hundreds of miles from his Maryland home, was limited to four appearances, earning a redshirt.
"Last year wasn't easy," Brady said. "If it wasn't for the team and coaching staff it would have been hard to make it through last year.'
For Brady, the 2010 season also began with difficulties. After a rough opening start against Furman, another poor start against Elon demoted the 6-2 right-hander to the bullpen. A 44th-round draft pick out of high school by Baltimore, Brady posted a 8.44 ERA in five ACC relief appearances.
But in the postseason, patience with Brady has paid off.
In the ACC and NCAA tournament play, Brady has a combined line of 7 1/3 innings pitched, eight hits, three runs allowed, no walks and 13 strikeouts.
"Since the start of season he is a different guy," pitching coach Dan Pepicelli said. "He's had to work through those on his own. He is very aggressive in what he is doing. He took a deep breath and put everything back in (place) and worked through it."
Having the look of a closer of the future with a fastball reaching 94 mph at the ACC tournament, Brady might have become the closer of the present with his recent work, combined with Clemson's season-long bullpen struggles.
As impressive as Brady's firm fastball was his ability to shut out outside factors at Auburn and focus.
"You get in an environment like it was (at Auburn), it was tough environment to pitch in," Pepicelli said. "You need a person that believes in what they are doing. Their stuff is important, but that belief in what you are doing is every bit as important."
Though Brady has not officially been labeled the closer, he could be a key player going forward for Clemson and its embattled bullpen.
Should another save situation arise, Brady is ready for the moment.
"Fifteen years down the road no one is going to remember," Brady said of his baseball exploits. "You just gotta play each day like it is going to be your last."
CLEMSON SUPER REGIONAL BOX
Who | Clemson (41-22) vs. Alabama (41-23)
When | 6 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, 1 p.m. or 7 p.m. Monday (if necessary)
What | Best-of-three series; winner advances to the College World Series
Where | Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Clemson
Television | Saturday (ESPNU), Sunday and Monday (ESPN2)
Tickets | Sold out. A limited number of $10 standing-room only tickets will go on sale Friday morning. To purchase visit clemsontigers.com