Entering Sunday's must-win NCAA tournament Super Regional game against Arkansas, USC's junior shortstop LT Tolbert was hitting .389 in the tourney, solidly above his regular season mark but without any signature moment or particularly clutch play.
That changed in the fifth inning with the bases loaded, one out and a 1-1 count, Arkansas reliever Jake Reindl on the mound.
Tolbert's grand slam home run just barely cleared the right field wall, but it put USC up 6-1 and proved to be the game-winning hit in a 8-5 contest that moved Carolina within one win of the College World Series.
But at the moment he hit it, Tolbert didn't think he'd just connected on what he later called the biggest hit of his career.
"I knew (Reindl) was going to throw some offspeed pitches in the at-bat, and I think he started with a fastball right over the plate that kind of caught me by surprise," Tolbert said. "But I just stayed on the fastball for the next pitch and knew that if he made a mistake, I could adjust to it.
"He left a breaking ball over the plate, and I didn't think I hit it out, just got some good backspin on it and fortunate it carried out of the park."
It was just the second home run Reindl has given up this season in 23 appearances, and it set up a back-to-back blast from senior catcher Hunter Taylor the very next batter.
In the dugout, sophomore Cody Morris, who started the game, didn't see the hit that essentially secured him the victory.
"I was actually down (in the dugout) getting iced, so I didn't see it, but I saw everyone go crazy, and (pitching coach Skylar Meade) just said 'Larry hit a grand slam' — I don't know why he calls him Larry. ... And I said, 'Let's go,' and I gave him a nice little fist bump," Morris said.
Tolbert trotted around the bases, and just after he touched home plate, he and sophomore Carlos Cortes leaped for a flying chest bump in celebration.
"I kinda blacked out right as I was rounding the bases, I don't really remember what happened," Tolbert said. "This is what I've been waiting my whole life for, to play in this moment."
For coach Mark Kingston, Tolbert was the perfect player for that moment — he called the Arizona Diamondbacks draftee a "gamer."
"He thinks he's really good and he's right," Kingston said. "He's got very good hand-eye coordination, and in those moments, he has the ability to stay calm and execute what needs to be done. I just think it's a combination of talent, want-to and poise in those situations."