HOOVER, Ala. — It ended at 3:03 a.m. on Thursday, this marathon of a baseball game that began almost seven hours earlier, back when fans packed the stands at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium to support LSU and Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
How did it end? Ma'Khail Hilliard gave up a single with two outs in the 17th inning. The winning run struck out but reached base on a wild pitch.
The Tigers lost the longest game in the history of the SEC tournament 6-5, forcing them to play an elimination game against Auburn on Thursday afternoon, less than 12 hours later.
HOOVER, Ala. — The K Lady ran out of K signs … she was down to fingers.
"Neither team quit," freshman Giovanni DiGiacomo said. "We legged it out and kept pushing and it's — Wow. It's really late. Goodness."
When it ended, six hours and 43 minutes has passed since the 8:20 p.m. first pitch on Wednesday. Eric Walker's start, one that put LSU in a 4-0 hole by the third inning but controlled the damage, had ended hours earlier. Even DiGiacomo’s game-tying home run had drifted away as the game stretched into the morning.
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Matthew Beck had pitched four shutout innings. Zack Hess had stranded five runners in scoring position, and at one point LSU went 22 plate appearances without recording a hit. After seven scoreless innings, LSU and Mississippi State had each scored a run in the 16th inning.
Zeros filled the scoreboard. One fan put white styrofoam Coca-Cola cups on his ears. Hess and Drew Bianco and most of the LSU dugout tied towels around their foreheads, but they took them off as the game continued. Mississippi State put a hat on top of a cowboy boot above its dugout. The hat later disappeared.
With the bases loaded and one out in the 16th inning, DiGiacomo began his eighth at-bat of the game. He lofted a fly ball into the outfield. Antoine Duplantis broke for home plate as Mississippi State caught the ball.
Duplantis slid ahead of the throw, scoring the first run for either team since DiGiacomo, the freshman who hadn’t played in almost two weeks, hit a two-run homer — the first of his career.
That sight: DiGiacomo jogging down the first base line, right fist raised in the air, had come in the eighth inning. Making his first start since May 3, he had jumped a few steps past first base. Coach Paul Mainieri had envisioned the homer before it happened.
“Let’s go!” DiGiacomo had screamed, clapping as he jogged toward home. “Let’s go!”
Then the game slipped into a scoreless slog. Mississippi State put runners in scoring position in the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th innings against Hess. He stranded all of them. LSU loaded the bases in the 15th inning. It didn't score then, either.
DiGiacomo's sac fly gave LSU a 5-4 lead, and Hilliard came out for his fourth inning. Mississippi State put runners on the corners with two outs for senior Jake Mangum, the SEC's all-time hits leader.
Mangum dribbled a slow ground ball toward second baseman Brandt Broussard. The game would have ended there, but Broussard bobbled the ball. Mississippi State scored a run as Mangum reached first base. The marathon beat on.
After LSU went down in order in the top of the 17th, Hilliard struck out Justin Foscue, but the ball rolled past catcher Brock Mathis. Foscue reached first base.
Hilliard struck out the next hitter. Strike three rolled underneath Mathis — a wild pitch — and Foscue moved into scoring position.
Gunner Halter smacked a single up the middle, just under the glove of diving shortstop Josh Smith. Foscue scored. The game ended, somehow.
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"The kids gave it everything they had," Mainieri said. "It's a shame we couldn't hold onto the lead."
While Mississippi State ran across the field, the Tigers grabbed their bags and shuffled through the dugout toward the team bus. Exhausted and defeated, they had played the longest game in the history of the SEC tournament, and they had to wake up in a few hours to play Auburn.
As they left the stadium, "3 AM" by Matchbox Twenty boomed over the loudspeakers.