The fifth-year senior missed last season with injuries, was batting .103 in just 29 at-bats and was mourning the death of his grandmother.
He was called on in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game to face Texas Tech reliever Dominic Moreno with the winning run on third base. Gatlin sent a 1-2 pitch into right field to score Aaron Greenwood in a 2-1 walk-off victory that kept the Rebels alive in the College World Series.
“One of the great things about this profession, about being a coach, is to watch young men like John Gatlin when good things happen to good people,” coach Mike Bianco said.
Gatlin was a part-time designated hitter in 2012, batting .255. He missed last season with a torn labrum and a broken foot. He hadn’t appeared in the NCAA tournament until Tuesday, and stepped to the plate in the ninth as a .197 career hitter.
Bianco was running out of options when he called on Gatlin. He wanted Gatlin to face left-hander Cameron Smith but wasn’t surprised when Texas Tech brought in Moreno to set up a righty-righty matchup.
“They bring the right-hander in, and we said, ‘Just hit it somewhere, John,’” Bianco said.
Gatlin’s grandmother died after he and his teammates had left for Omaha. She was on his mind after the game.
“I couldn’t think of anything else that she could be more proud of,” Gatlin said.
Hitting coach Cliff Godwin had asked Gatlin if he needed to return home.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ She’d kill me if I came home right now. But, yeah, game’s on the line like that, so much goijng through your head, and she was definitely a part of it.”