Wednesday night was historic in some senses.
The 15-inning contest between UNO and LSU was the longest in the history of the new Alex Box Stadium, which opened in 2009. It also marked the first time UNO swept a season series against the Tigers in 20 years.
“I’m glad we don’t play UNO anymore this year, to be honest with you,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “We bring out the best in those guys.”
The Privateers (10-7) scored three runs in the top of the 15th inning, ending a string of the two teams trading runs and missed opportunities. LSU brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the 15th, but couldn’t put a dent in the ultimately final 7-4 score.
After a leadoff double by former LSU player Dakota Dean and a sacrifice bunt that moved him to third base, catcher Jonathan Cable brought the winning run home with a ground ball to second base. LSU’s Cole Freeman made a diving stop on the play, but his throw to the plate was errant, allowing Dean to score.
UNO tacked on some insurance with two more runs in the frame, which was enough for junior left-hander John Michael Stephens (1-0) who got Kramer Robertson to ground out with runners on the corners to end the game. Stephens allowed just two hits in 3.2 innings.
LSU reliever Collin Strall (0-2) was outstanding in a losing effort. The Tigers only had one available bullpen arm behind him, meaning he was in for the long haul when LSU brought him on to start the 11th inning.
Though he gave up an earned run in that inning, he quickly settled into a groove. At one point, the senior right-hander retired 11 of 12 Privateers to keep turning the game over to the lineup’s hands.
Strall finished the night giving up four runs in 4.2 innings — though two of those came across after he left the game — while throwing 73 pitches.
“It was just go out there, get three outs and give my team a chance to win,” Strall said. “That’s what you’ve got to do in extra innings. It can’t be, ‘How long am I going to go?’”
The middle innings were relatively tame Wednesday, but things started getting wild once the ninth inning arrived with the teams tied at three runs apiece.
UNO had the go-ahead run in scoring position with Samuel Capielano — 4-for-4 on the night — coming to the plate when LSU summoned right-hander Caleb Gilbert from the bullpen. Gilbert induced an easy ground ball to second base.
LSU had the winning run at third base in the bottom of the ninth, but UNO center fielder Orynn Veillon made an incredible full-extension inning-ending diving catch to rob Kramer Robertson of a game-winning hit.
“That would’ve ended the game right there,” Mainieri said.
The Tigers had another golden opportunity in the 10th, getting the speedy Cole Freeman to third base with one out. But UNO intentionally walked both Greg Deichmann and Jake Slaughter to load the bases.
But Privateers right-hander Jarred Taylor struck out freshman center fielder Zach Watson and got Josh Smith to fly out to left field to end the inning.
In the top of the 11th, UNO finally ended a string of five scoreless innings compiled by the LSU bullpen when Owen Magee ripped a sharp single off right-hander Collin Strall down the third base line to score pinch-runner Jared McKay from second base.
LSU answered with its first base hit with runners in scoring position since the first inning. With two outs and two strikes, Antoine Duplantis laced an opposite field single down the third base line to score pinch-runner Brennan Breaux from second base.
“I was just trying to stick with my two-strike approach that I do every single time I have two strikes,” Duplantis said. “I was trying to look away … stay inside the ball and not try to do too much with it. He happened to throw me a pitch right where I was looking for it.”
But Deichmann struck out to end the inning with the winning run at second.
That was a trend for the evening. The Tigers finished the night 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position.
“It was one of those nights,” Duplantis said. “Once it happened a couple times, it put more pressure on us.”
LSU begins Southeastern Conference play Friday against Georgia.
NEWMAN UNAVAILABLE WITH ‘NON-THROWING INJURY’
There was a reason Mainieri didn’t turn the game over from Gilbert to closer Hunter Newman, and it wasn’t because LSU was on the brink of beginning SEC play.
“Unfortunately Hunter Newman was not available to us,” Mainieri said. “He has an injury that we’re dealing with, a non-throwing injury. He wasn’t available. We were limited with two midweek games.”
Mainieri declined comment on the severity or location of the injury after the game.