Baseball in a mitt, bat stock

Baseball in a mitt with a black bat low angle selective focus view on a baseball field

Nicholls State freshman pitcher Jacob Mayers had his worst outing of the year Friday night. Two hours later, neither he nor his teammates cared.

Senior Austin Cain blasted a go-ahead, three-run home run in the third inning and the Colonels (30-21, 15-8 Southland) clinched their first-ever Southland Conference regular-season championship, pulling away late to beat UNO 10-4 at Maestri Field. Coupled with Incarnate Word’s 7-3 loss at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, they were able to celebrate the outright title when shortstop Parker Coddou caught an infield pop for the final out.

Everyone in the dugout stormed the field and swarmed Coddou. Coach Mike Silva needed only two years to accomplish what the program had not done since joining the Southland in 1992, taking a team picked sixth out of nine teams in the league’s preseason poll to the championship. 

"I don't know if I can put in into words right now," Silva said. "I'm so happy for our players. These guys weren't anywhere close to this position two years ago, so for them to walk out here and call themselves champions is huge for us. I love these kids and all these people (who traveled from Thibodaux) here supporting us. It's just tremendous. It's very humbling." 

UNO (32-22, 12-11) missed an opportunity to set up a Saturday matchup for the No. 1 seed in the Southland Conference tournament. Instead, the Privateers will fall to the seventh seed in the balanced league if they lose the series finale, forcing them into a dreaded single-elimination play-in game Tuesday in Lake Charles.

"We had chances to score," UNO coach Blake Dean said. "We didn't find a way to get the big hit when we needed it." 

Mayers, who entered with a sterling 1.93 ERA and had gone at least four innings in all 12 of his previous starts, left with the bases loaded and no outs in the third inning. UNO’s Tristan Moore already had hit his league-leading 19th home run in the first, and Miguel Useche followed with a solo shot over the wall leading off the second to give the Privateers a 2-1 lead.

When Mayers walked the first two batters in the third and gave up a line-drive single to center field, his night was done.

The Colonels were far from finished. Lefty reliever Josh Mancuso struck out Moore and coaxed a dribbler from cleanup hitter Mitchell Sanford that went almost nowhere. Catcher Kaden Amundson fielded the ball, stepped on home plate for the force-out and fired to first base for an inning-ending double play.

"It was a really tough decision to take (Mayers) out," Silva said. "He's been our best guy wire to wire and he's been in that situation and gotten out of it, but he didn't look like he had his best stuff tonight. It was time for somebody else to do it, and they did. The game changed with Josh Mancuso getting the strikeout and the double-play ball. You could feel it in our dugout. They started tasting it at that point. It was huge." 

Dean lamented that turning point. 

"With your three- and four-hole hitter right there, we got some bad luck when the ball rolled out a foot in front of the plate," he said. "We needed to score there." 

Nicholls padded its lead on MaCrae Kendrick’s home run into the berm behind the left-field wall leading off the fourth and made the score 6-2 on a sacrifice fly later in the inning. The Colonels proved they could hit with power as well after entering the series with only 35 long balls, due in large part to playing at pitcher-friendly Didier Field. 

Cain's homer was only his second of the year. 

"It feels fantastic any time I could do something like that for my guys," he said. "It's not usually what I do, but it was a fastball in and that's my favorite pitch. This feeling is awesome. It's what we work for every day. I'm so happy. I can't stop smiling." 

UNO rebounded with two runs in the fifth to close within 6-4, taking advantage of two hit batters and a walk, but Cain caught a line drive from Jeissy de la Cruz that for a split second looked like it might tie the score. 

Colonels left fielder Garrett Felix then backed up to the wall to catch a high fly from Issac Williams for the third out of the eighth with a runner on second.

Nicholls put the game away with four runs in the top of the ninth.

"Their lineup offensively is as tough as anybody we play all year, so we felt like we needed to score," Silva said. It was huge, but you are still on pins and needles. You see crazy things in this game, so just happy we were able to get the job done." 

Mancuso, Nick Saltaformaggio, Chase Gearing and Cade Evans combined to limit UNO to two runs on five hits in the seven innings after Mayers departed. Gearing (3-1) picked up the win, throwing 3⅓ innings of one-hit ball with three strikeouts.

UNO did not do much after increasing its season home run total to 80—the fourth highest number in school history. Senior Caleb Seroski (3-1) was tagged with his first loss of the year after starting for the first time in his career, giving up six hits and four runs in 2⅔ innings.

The Privateers can avoid the play-in game by bouncing back Saturday. A win would guarantee them no worse than the No. 5 seed in the tournament. 

"We've just got to reset and settle back down," said Dean, who will use junior Tyler LeBlanc (3-3, 6.56) on the mound. "Hopefully they will, and if they do, we'll have a good chance to finish up the way we want to."