BATON ROUGE, La. — In a game that no one seemed to want to win, the LSU baseball team left with a loss.
In a 15-inning game, tied for the longest nonconference game LSU’s played since 1989, the Tigers lost to the University of New Orleans, 7-4. The Tigers had plenty of opportunities to score, leaving 15 runners on base despite only recording 10 hits, but consistently stranded runners in scoring position, unable to push across the decisive run.
Nowhere was this stranding runners trend more evident than in the late innings. The Tigers stranded freshman third baseman Josh Smith in scoring position in the ninth inning, before leaving the bases loaded in the 10th when freshman Zach Watson struck out swinging and Smith flew out to left field. Prior to Watson and Smith’s outs, UNO elected to intentionally walk both Greg Deichmann and Jake Slaughter to load the bases.
The issues persisted into the 11th as well. Now down a run, pinch-hitter Beau Jordan and second baseman Cole Freeman worked their way on with singles, bringing Antoine Duplantis to the plate with two outs and the game in his hands. After Duplantis singled in pinch runner Brennan Breaux to tie the game, Deichmann struck out, stranding two more runners.
Twelfth inning? Same routine. The Tigers stranded Watson on second to send the game to the 13th.
Reliever Collin Strall was excellent. Despite allowing one run in the top of the 11th to briefly give UNO a lead, Strall set down eight in a row and 11 out of 12 from the 11th through 14th innings to keep LSU in the game. Strall allowed a leadoff double in the 15th inning and that runner went on to score on a one-out fielder’s choice. The senior exited the game with runners on first and second after 4.2 innings pitched and 73 pitches thrown.
By innings, Wednesday’s game was the longest in the history of the new Alex Box Stadium.
Highlight of the night
Prior to Wednesday night, Slaughter hadn’t homered since Opening Day versus Army. But in the first inning Wednesday, after Kramer Robertson and Deichmann drew walks, putting two men on base, Slaughter uncorked one, planting a pitch in the left-field bleachers for three runs.
Take a look at that home run by Slaughter! pic.twitter.com/USF0Feg7ic
— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) March 16, 2017
After Slaughter’s bomb, LSU had a tough time finding offense. Spanning the second through the fifth innings, LSU only had four base runners, two of whom were stranded in scoring position. In the sixth, the Tigers put two more men on base, but ended up surrendering the inning on a fielder’s choice groundout.
Adventures in bullpenning
Wednesday was always supposed to be a bullpen day for coach Paul Mainieri’s Tigers. With Friday marking the beginning of conference play, Mainieri opted for several short outings from many relievers instead of one extended run from a starter.
Through four innings, the plan seemed to work. Starter-in-name-only Todd Peterson allowed one run on two hits and a walk in the first two innings before Austin Bain cleaned up behind him, pitching scoreless frames in the third and fourth with three strikeouts.
But, as has been the case all season, things devolved on the mound for LSU when Hunter Kiel came in. Kiel unleashed three wild pitches and allowed two runs on two hits in the fifth. The two runs added to Kiel’s already ballooning ERA, which went up from 15.43 to 15.88. In other words, Kiel has allowed 10 earned runs in 5.2 innings pitched this year.
After Kiel, Matthew Beck stabilized LSU pitching, throwing 2.1 scoreless innings, before giving way to Russell Reynolds in the top of the eighth.
Fresh to death
Prior to the late-game issues, Slaughter, Smith and Watson — LSU’s three freshmen — were LSU’s most reliable offensive weapons.
Slaughter’s three-run home run supplied the theatrics, but Smith and Watson did their jobs pretty well behind him. Watson notched two of LSU’s five hits in regulation and walked in the first inning. Smith was the other, walking three times, including once in the ninth inning.
But in extra innings, the freshmen, especially Watson, tried to do a little too much. Watson worked ahead to a 2-0 count in his at-bat before striking out, chasing a pitch out of the zone to give way to Smith. And while Smith can’t necessarily be blamed for his at-bat, he flared a pitch into the outfield that just happened to go right at somebody.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
The Tigers open SEC play on Friday with the start of a three-game home series versus Georgia. Friday’s game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. CT. All three games will be streamed on WatchESPN and available by radio on the LSU Sports Radio Network and 98.1 FM Baton Rouge.