Free baseball, magic at Alex Box and drama was No. 11 LSU baseball’s Wednesday night.
LSU (16-5) treated its fans to extra innings in a midweek thriller during its 5-4 route over Nicholls State (11-11). Senior infielder Chris Reid and sophomore Daniel Cabrera had something special in store as each drove in runners in crunch time. Reid tied the game in the ninth, and Cabrera ended the game in the tenth.
It was a back-and-forth game with the first blow coming in the first inning.
Freshman right-hander Landon Marceaux faced six batters in his fifth start of the season. He missed practice Tuesday because of an illness but threw 30 pitches against Nicholls State. Mainieri said his strength wasn’t all there, but he struck out three but allowed two runs.
A leadoff single then stolen base in the first inning put a runner in scoring position. A two out double drove the runner in giving Nicholls a one run lead. The Colonels added in the second when Marceaux gave up a solo homerun. He threw strikes and finished with three strikeouts but every ball put in play was a hard-hit ball off the bat.
The offense produce unproductive at bats throughout the first time through the lineup. LSU hitters swung at four first pitches - all resulted in outs.
“We just weren’t putting very good swings on it,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I don’t mind the kids swinging at the first pitch, as long as they get a good, aggressive swing.”
It took LSU three innings before getting its first hit from junior infielder Josh Smith. It seemed like a rally was starting with another hit following Smith, but it died when Smith was caught stealing.
The lineup struggled throughout, but the main producers of the past few weeks -- the top five -- hit a major road bump in the midweek game going into a weekend series with Georgia -- with a team ERA of 2.46. The first five in the LSU lineup went a combined 3 for 21.
The fifth inning was when LSU strung a walk and a two hits together to score for the first time. A sacrifice bunt put sophomore infielder Hal Hughes up with runners on second and third. Hughes hit a chopping ground ball through the middle to tie the game.
LSU had an opportunity to score with runners on second and third again in the fifth, but junior outfielder Zach Watson struck out to end the inning.
When freshman right-hander Chase Costello entered the game in the fifth inning, he looked sharp striking out two hitters in his route to retire the side in order. Costello had a long wait with the LSU rally in the fifth inning, and it showed with the first pitch of the sixth inning. He allowed a no-doubt home run three-quarters up the right field bleachers to give the Colonels a 3-2 lead.
“I thought Chase (Costello) threw the ball really well,” Mainieri said. “Unfortunately he gave up that one solo homerun. I was really pleased with that”
The lead didn’t last long when Hughes did it again for LSU in the seventh. He came up with a runner at second base. Hughes drove his second hit up the middle - almost the same spot - to tie the game at three.
Junior right-hander Tod Peterson re-lived his struggles again. On the first pitch of the inning he allowed a solo homerun to freshman infielder Adam Tarver. That was Tarver’s second home run of the game.
Fate didn’t seem to be in the Tigers favor, but Alex Box and Reid had some magic in the ninth. A pinch hit walk from freshman infielder Drew Bianco and a fielder’s choice put Bianco at second base. Reid pinch hit and drove a ball in the left field gap on a two-two count.
The game was tied and Nicholls intentionally walked Smith to put runners on first and second base. Watson grounded out to end the inning and send the game into extra innings.
It was the tenth inning when the magic came alive in Alex Box. Senior outfielder Antoine Duplantis came up after going 0-3. Duplantis drew a walk and moved up to second base on a wild pitch that didn’t stray to far from the Colonel’s catcher. Sophomore outfielder Daniel Cabrera was up with a chance to win the game.
Cabrera drew a three-ball count before getting the green light from Mainieri. Cabrera took a huge swing on a 3-0 count to put the count 3-1. The intensity of the at bat was mounting throughout the stadium. Cabrera said he hoped Duplantis didn’t hit the walk off in his at bat.
“That’s what I want to do,” Cabrera said. “I want to hit in those moments.”
Cabrera did just what he feared Duplantis would, he walked it off. Cabrera laced a ball off the right field wall and raised his hand. Duplantis rounded home and scored before the LSU bench charged onto the field to celebrate with Cabrera.
Mainieri said he is glad LSU found a way to win a game they “slept walked” through. LSU faces Georgia in Athens for its first SEC away series.