“He told me, ‘Ah, I feel pretty bad,’ ” said Spencer Kieboom, who doubles as Kent’s roommate. “But Mike is the last person to complain.”
As that first game wore on, it was becoming clear Clemson would need its bullpen. They asked Kent, a redshirt sophomore in the midst of a fine season as a middle reliever, to get warmed up, keeping a close eye on him and asking him again how he felt. The answer again: “Fine.”
“I watched him throw a little bit and thought he was dialing in,” said Dan Pepicelli, Clemson’s assistant head coach and pitching coach. “I told [head coach Jack Leggett], ‘The kid says he feels good.’ So he says, ‘Well, let’s do it then.’ ”
So out of the bullpen and into the game jogged Mike Kent, with chemically induced flu symptoms taxing his body, and for whom a bone marrow donation awaited on the other side of the weekend.
“I didn’t feel well,” Kent recalled. “Fatigue. My hips were aching. Running was even tough. My body wasn’t feeling normal. Feverish.”
Oh, and the bases were loaded with two outs, with Clemson protecting a three-run lead.
What followed became perhaps the emotional centerpiece of the Tigers’ season.
Kent gave up an infield single, on a chopper to shortstop, that allowed one runner to score, but struck out his second batter to end the Terrapins’ threat. He then came back out for the seventh, then the eighth, then the ninth.
“As soon as you see him with that first batter, you could tell he’s got it going on,” Pepicelli said. “And in the back of your mind, you know what’s going on in his life — and if he wants to stay out there and go with it, let’s let him go. It was just one of those moments. You could sense it was a moment.”
The result: 31
3 scoreless innings and a well-earned save in a 5-3 Clemson win in the middle game of what turned into a three-game sweep.
“When he came off the field,” recalled Susan Kent, who was in the stands that day, “a bunch of [his teammates] came over and hugged him. Because they knew.”
The struggle continues
After Saturday’s second game, after his teammates packed for the flight back to Clemson, Kent drove back to Springfield with his mother. There were still two more days of injections and the stem cell donation itself to go. By Tuesday, Mike’s flu-like symptoms were intense.
When the notion of a transplant was first broached with Mike over winter break, his mother put it in dire terms. The chemotherapy hadn’t worked for Matt, nor had the injections of his own stem cells.