By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
It took 15 innings and five hours of baseball, but Blake Dean and UNO finished off the program’s first sweep of LSU since 1997.
The Privateers scored three times in the top of the 15th inning to secure a 7-4 victory over LSU in the wee hours of a chilly Wednesday night at Alex Box Stadium.
The marathon of unsightly baseball stands as the longest game (in innings) in the stadium’s history, dating back to 2009, and the tied the program’s longest non-conference game going back to 1989.
“Obviously that was a tough loss,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I feel for our kids. They played their hearts out tonight. There was obviously some things we could’ve done better.”
LSU brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the inning, but Kramer Robertson bounced into a fielder’s choice to end the game. LSU went just 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position, 5-for-25 with runners on base and stranded 15 men.
“We had our opportunities,” Mainieri said. “I give an awful lot of credit to UNO. Their pitchers made some big pitches.”
The Tigers were down to their final strike trailing 4-3 in the 11th inning. Pinch hitter Beau Jordan legged out an infield single to begin the rally, and Cole Freeman singled to left with two outs to extend the game. Antoine Duplantis lined a 2-2 offering to left for the game-tying single.
LSU reliever Collin Strall and the UNO bullpen traded zeroes in the 12th, 13th and 14th innings. Strall set down eight in a row after allowing the go-ahead single to Owen Magee in the 11th before running out of gas in the 15th inning.
Strall took one for the team as LSU navigated its second midweek game in as many nights with a compromised bullpen ahead of conference play beginning on Friday night. He ate 4.2 innings and threw 73 pitches.
Caleb Gilbert inherited a jam in the top of the inning and kept the game tied. With two on and two outs in the ninth, Gilbert got UNO second baseman Samuel Capielano to ground harmlessly to second base. Capielano had been 4-for-4 up to that point, matching LSU’s hit total through eight innings.
LSU had its own chance to win the game in the ninth. Josh Smith walked and Chris Reid singled up the middle. After a fielder’s choice, Kramer Robertson was robbed of a walk-off single by a full-extension diving catch by UNO center fielder Orynn Veillion.
Gilbert retired the side in order in the tenth with two strikeouts, setting up a golden opportunity to win the game. Three walks — two intentional — loaded the bases with one out, but Zach Watson struck out swinging and Smith popped to shallow left field to send the game to the 11th.
Long before that, the game looked destined to be a high-scoring slugfest aided by defensive miscues from both sides.
Trailing 1-0, LSU quickly retook the lead in the bottom of first inning. Walks to Robertson and Deichmann — the latter of the four-pitch variety — set the stage for Jake Slaughter, who belted a 2-0 fastball deep into the left-field grandstands to put the Tigers ahead 3-1. It was the freshman’s first home run since opening day.
The Tigers nearly gave back the lead in the ensuing inning. Robertson’s second error in as many innings, a catcher’s interference charged to Papierski and a walk loaded the bases.
LSU committed three errors through the first two defensive frames, but freshman right-hander Todd Peterson picked up his defense. He induced a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning.
Austin Bain relieved Peterson and worked around a leadoff double in the third, getting a strikeout and a popup to strand a man on third base. He then struck out two batters looking as part of a 1-2-3 fourth inning.
UNO came back to tie the game against Hunter Kiel in the fifth inning. After two quick outs, Kiel allowed a single and former Tiger Dakota Dean drilled an RBI double to the gap in right-center field. Kiel then uncorked back-to-back wild pitches that brought home the tying run.
Right-hander Matthew Beck took over in the sixth and found himself in a jam in the seventh. With two on and one out, Beck struck out Dean on a high fastball and Papierski gunned down the trail runner on a double steal attempt to extinguish the threat. Beck logged 2.1 innings of shutout relief.
The Tigers will open up Southeastern Conference play against Georgia on Friday night at the Box.
– Closer Hunter Newman wasn’t available, Mainieri said after the game. The coach said he’s dealing with a “non-throwing injury” and wouldn’t elaborate beyond that LSU would monitor his status heading into the Georgia series.
– Right-handed reliever Doug Norman said he underwent his Tommy John surgery last Tuesday and began physical therapy Wednesday. The injured hurler was in the press box for the LSU vs. UNO game. He’s been ruled out for the remainder of the 2017 season.