As he headed to the on-deck circle, Nick Longmire expected to have an opportunity Sunday. The Quad-Cities outfielder didn't let it go to waste.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Longmire belted a three-run, walk-off home run to send the River Bandits into the Midwest League Championship Series for the first time since 1990.
Stunned Kane County players watched as Longmire's blast cleared the fence in left-center, giving Quad-Cities a 6-5 victory and erasing the remnants of a 5-0 lead the Cougars held midway through the eighth inning.
Teammates Jonathan Rodriguez and Cody Stanley, who had each reached on one-out singles, pumped fists in the air and pointed fingers skyward as Quad-Cities players poured out of the dugout, surrounding home plate to celebrate as Longmire touched.
"When I hit it, I wasn't sure at first. I knew it was at least a double that would tie the game. When it got out, I was overcome with excitement," Longmire said. "This is awesome. It's what we worked toward all year."
The River Bandits will open the best-of-5 championship series with a pair of road games, most likely beginning Wednesday. Rain in Eastern Division cities delayed the start of that semifinal round until Sunday, when Lansing opened its best-of-3 series with a 4-1 win at Fort Wayne.
Talking to his team in its Modern Woodmen Park clubhouse, Quad-Cities manager Johnny Rodriguez praised the River Bandits' determination.
"You guys never gave up, you guys never quit," Rodriguez said. "I believe in the character of each and every one of you. Down five runs, it would have been easy to quit, but that is not who you are and that is not the type of team we are. You kept the faith."
Cougars starter Jason Mitchell made Quad-Cities earn its ticket to the championship round.
The Kane County right-hander limited the River Bandits to three hits and struck out nine over seven innings, but provided Quad-Cities with an opening when he hit Longmire with a pitch and gave up a run-scoring double to Colin Walsh to open a two-run eighth.
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"For seven innings, he had outstanding stuff," Rodriguez said. "He kept the ball down in the zone, about 75 percent of his pitches were below the knees. He made it hard for us to hit."
Cougars manager Vance Wilson put the ball in the hands of his team's closer, Chase Boruff, in the bottom of the ninth. After a walk and wild pitch allowed Jonathan Rodriguez's RBI single to inch Quad-Cities within a 5-3 score, Antonio Cruz gave up a single to Stanley before surrendering Longmire's game-ending homer.
"They had thrown me first-pitch fastballs twice in my first three at-bats, so I went up there looking for that figuring that he would want to get ahead," Longmire said.
Longmire got the fastball he was looking for and added his name to a growing list of River Bandits who have hit walk-off homers this season.
"We've got the type of team that can do that," Longmire said. "J Rod, Stanley, (Chris) Edmondson, they've all him them. We feel like we can come back from any deficit. That's the type of team we are and we showed it again today."