As Brady Singer went to field a ground ball that dribbled toward the pitcher's mound in the first inning of the Florida Gators' Super Regional opener against Auburn on Saturday, he felt his hamstring twitch.
Fans were already thinking the worst just five pitches into the ace's final start on the field he had called home for the past three years.
Jacquelyn Singer, Brady's mother sitting in a front-row seat down the third-base sideline, ran into the bathroom and prayed.
She knew her son was hurt. She knew he needed protection.
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But she also knew Brady Singer would do everything in his power to stay on the mound.
"I know his mentality," Jacquelyn Singer said. "I know he will not tell the coach, he will not tell the trainers the truth just because he is that competitive. He takes his role very seriously."
And so Brady stayed in the game. Six innings and 114 pitches after that initial scare, he walked off the mound at McKethan Stadium for the last time. A roaring standing ovation from the crowd greeted Brady as he made his way to the dugout. Two innings later, the Gators closed out an 8-2 win. Two days later, UF clinched its berth into the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
"I kind of soaked it all in,” Brady said. “I'm forever grateful of this place and extremely happy to be a part of it."
His time with the Gators isn’t over just yet.
The unanimous first-team All-American, National Player of the Year by D1Baseball and Baseball America, Dick Howser Trophy winner and Golden Spikes Award finalist will soon enough be on his way to his professional baseball career. The Kansas City Royals selected him 18th overall in the MLB Draft last week.
Brady has unfinished business to handle first. The chance at a second national title with the Gators is right in front of him.
Florida’s trip to the College World Series — the Gators’ fourth straight and seventh in nine years — also serves as Brady's swan song at UF, his last chance to add to his already impressive collegiate baseball legacy. He'll be on the mound Sunday when the top-seeded Gators against Texas Tech at 7 p.m. at TD Ameritrade Park.
If the Gators want any chance of a repeat, they will need their ace at the top of his game.
Brady is 12-1 on the season with a career-best 2.30 ERA over 15 starts. He is holding opponents to a .187 batting average — the third-best single-season mark in UF history — and has posted 13 quality starts, defined as pitching at least six innings and giving up no more than three earned runs.
But the work ethic and demeanor that fans see from Brady Singer every time he toes the rubber and fires off a 95 mph fastball or screams in euphoria when he works out of a jam long predates his time in Gainesville.
His baseball career began when he started tee ball at age 5. When Brady progressed to coach pitch a year later, a time when young players were lobbed balls to get a general feel for how to swing at a moving object, Brett Singer was firing underhanded fastballs to his son.
"He crushed them," Brett said.
Jacquelyn added: "He always has played up. He's always wanted a little bit more than what everyone else got, and he could handle it. So Brett kept pushing."
As the pressure built, Brady continued to improve, unfazed at the challenge ahead of him.
"I've never seen him in the face of adversity buckle," Brett said. "And it scares me to death because you think someday it's going to happen.
"But it has just made him stronger."
The Toronto Blue Jays drafted Brady with the 56th overall pick out of high school, but he opted to make the two-hour drive north to Gainesville instead.
In three years at UF, Brady had the opportunity to perfect his craft without the pressure of knowing his job would be on the line like it would have been if he went straight to pro ball. He also solidified himself as one of the top pitchers to make his way through a Florida baseball program that has produced seven pitchers drafted in the top three rounds over the past three years alone.
Come Sunday, Brady will make his return to the biggest stage of college baseball at TD Ameritrade Park, hoping to lead Florida back to another national title.
He had success in Omaha last year. The 6-5 righty went 2-0 in his pair of starts, giving up just three earned runs over 14 innings while striking out a College World Series record 21 batters.
His parents will be there, too, watching their son play in orange and blue for the last time before moving on to living out his dream of making it to the major leagues.
"He has everything in perspective," Jacquelyn said. "He has a goal in mind and he's going to do whatever it takes to reach that."