Senior Anthony Herron made absolutely sure the UNO baseball won a game it really needed to win.
After watching Nicholls State celebrate its first-ever Southland Conference regular-season championship on Friday night, Herron hit for the cycle as the Privateers run-ruled Nicholls State 14-4 in eight innings on Saturday afternoon at Maestri Field.
Herron completed the cycle by hitting a towering, walk-off home run over the left-field wall. He carried the bat with him almost all of the way to first base before dropping it and taking a fun trip around the bases.
“It felt great,” he said. “I was honestly thinking about it on the field before that half-inning. I wanted a chance to end the game and a chance to celebrate that moment with my guys. It was a fairy-tale ending.”
With the victory, UNO (33-22, 13-11 Southland) avoided having to be in Tuesday’s play-in game at the Southland Conference tournament, moving up to the No. 4 seed and direct entry into the double-elimination portion. The Privateers will face third-seeded Lamar (32-21, 13-11) on Wednesday in Lake Charles at a time to be determined.
Top-seeded Nicholls (30-22, 15-9) will play the winner of the play-in game between sixth-seeded host McNeese and No. 7 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
The Privateers, who would have been the No. 1 seed if they had swept the series, got over the disappointment of Friday’s defeat.
“Yesterday was yesterday,” said second baseman Tyler Bischke, who gave UNO the lead for good with a two-run homer that barely cleared the wall during a five-run third inning. “We can’t sit and dwell on that. We wanted to get this one so we weren’t having to play in the play-in game. This was a huge game, and I was trying to do everything for the team to help us win.”
Herron did more. After flying out in his first at-bat, he doubled in two runs in the third, singled in the fifth and had an RBI triple in a six-run sixth as UNO expanded a 5-4 lead to 11-4. The Privateers made it 12-4 in the seventh before Herron came up in the eighth with Miguel Useche on second base.
Reliever Chat Hayes’ curveball on a 1-2 count did not fool Herron, who hit his seventh home run of the season in no-doubt fashion.
“To finish his last home game here with a cycle and a walk-off home run, good things happen to good people,” UNO coach Blake Dean said about Herron. “It’s something he’ll never forget.”
Nicholls will remember its championship clincher on Friday night forever but was less worried about Saturday. Second-year coach Mike Silva sat four of his starters and subbed out for three more in a game that had no effect on the Colonels’ seeding.
They hung around early thanks to uncharacteristic shoddy defense from UNO, which committed three infield errors in the first three innings and lost two balls in the sun during a three-run fifth as the Colonels pulled within 5-4.
Nicholls had no answer for the Privateers’ final push.
“It’s definitely different,” Silva said. “I tried to get some guys at-bats that might come off the bench for us, and obviously we played a bunch of guys. I tried to get some guys some experience because you never know what’s going to happen in the tournament. Hopefully it benefits us next week.”
UNO will get to use 10-game winner Brandon Mitchell in its tournament opener instead of having to burn him in a play-in game. The Privateers went with regular weekend starter Tyler LeBlanc on Saturday, and he pitched four innings before turning it over to Jack Williams for the next three. Williams (3-0) allowed one hit in three innings.
The Privateers also ran their season home run total to 83 — senior Jeissy de la Cruz hit a two-run, opposite-field shot down the right field line — for their most since setting the school record with 90 in 2008.