In the white noise of the moment, Tim Walton never saw it go out. He was busy trying to get the winning run home with a windmill wave because he was assuming that — like so many balls Florida hit this weekend — it would smack off the wall.
But he forgot something important — one ounce.
The ounce he added to Jordan Matthews’ 34-inch bat Saturday to give her some extra pop.
“It was the first time all season she swung the bat she used in high school,” he said. “But she deserves all the credit.”
Matthews, a freshman, drilled a three-run homer to left-center in the bottom of the seventh that gave Florida a 5-3 win to bring a dramatic end to a dramatic series.
The homer, Matthews’ fifth of the season, landed somewhere in Oklahoma City where Florida will play next in the Women’s College World Series.
“I was just trying to score Amanda (Lorenz from second), really,” Matthews said. “Tring to hit it hard in a gap. I knew it was out. I was just embracing the moment.”
Matthews’ walk-off, on the last pitch before Katie Seashole Pressly is renovated, came on a 2-2 pitch after she fouled off a pair of strikes. She had been using a 24-ounce bat because of missing the entire fall after tearing an ACL in high school and losing some of her lower body strength.
In fact, Walton shared a story about a Facetime call with Matthews’ mother Nadia Martinez before the season when mom wondered if her daughter would even play this year because of her injury.
“I hope she plays every game,” Walton said at the time.
She has at least two more as second-seeded Florida (55-9) advances to the WCWS for the ninth time and will face seventh-seeded Georgia in the first game at 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN2).
The home run was the climax to a game with more layers than the royal wedding cake.
This is how crazy it was — Florida’s ace pitcher gave up more hits than she has in a game all season and the winning pitcher gave up what looked like a soul-crushing homer in the top of the seventh. Oh, and Florida had two runners thrown out at the plate and the winning coach was ripping his own decision about pitching before anyone could Tweet him about it.
It was wild and crazy and sweaty and intense for seven spectacular innings with one spectacular ending.
Kelly Barnhill kept pitching in and out of trouble for Florida and the Gators got a pair of runs in the fourth and the fifth on two-out singles by Hannah Adams and Janell Wheaton.
When Texas A&M loaded the bases with nobody out in the sixth, Walton pulled Barnhill for Aleshia Ocasio. The senior got out of the inning with only one run scoring on a wild pitch.
“She pitched her butt off,” Walton said.
Ocasio struck out the first two batters she faced in the seventh and the crowd of 2,068 was poised to celebrate.
But A&M’s Sarah Hudek, who had seven hits for the three games, hit a soft single to right to keep the Aggies alive.
That brought up Tori Vidales, who won Friday night’s game with a three-run homer off Ocasio.
“Before anyone Tweets me or texts me or calls me, that was a dumb decision to not bring Barnhill back,” Walton said. “I obviously should have. It was dumb on my part. I had a gut feeling and I didn’t go with my gut.”
Vidales blasted a two-run homer off Ocasio, who had seen Florida’s WCWS hopes die two years earlier on a walk-off homer by Georgia to the same spot, and Texas A&M (44-18) was three outs from taking the win.
“You’re on top of the world,” said Aggies coach Jo Evans, “and then it comes crashing down.”
Two walks gave Florida hope but Wheaton was called out on a 3-2 pitch on the corner and Florida’s season was down to its last out.
“I was thinking, ‘Did that really just happen?’ “ Wheaton said. “I’ve already watched it five times. If I have bruises on my body from the celebration, I’m not feeling them.”
There was only one feeling for this team Saturday night.
“That was a ‘Holy Bleep’ moment,” Walton said. “You say, ‘Wow,’ what a game.”
WCWS Glance Thursday
Arizona State vs. Oregon, 12 p.m., ESPN
Washington vs. Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Georgia vs. Florida, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Florida State vs. UCLA, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2