No. 8 LSU capitalized on five unearned runs Friday in a 9-4 victory against Washington, surviving Aaron Nola’s surprising collapse from perfection.
LSU (13-1) jumped out to an early 6-0 lead behind six perfect innings from Nola to open the game. But things unraveled for him in the seventh as he surrendered four runs on five hits in an unexpected meltdown.
Nola retired the first 18 batters he faced, but after allowing a single to Washington (4-9) leadoff man Jayce Ray to open the seventh, the floodgates opened. Each of the next four Huskies reached base, including Trevor Mitsui, who drove home a pair with a single down the left field line.
Michael Camporeale followed that with a RBI-single of his own, and Andrew Ely would chase Nola out of the game with a run-scoring hit to left field that cut the lead to 6-4.
“That was definitely as well as I’ve thrown since I’ve been here…but unfortunately, in that seventh inning they caught on and I missed a couple spots,” said Nola, who finished with six strikeouts. “It happened so quick. Luckily our offense tacked on a lot of runs tonight.”
Nick Rumbelow entered and stopped the bleeding, retiring both batters he faced in the inning. He didn’t allow a baserunner in 1 2/3 innings of work as he continues to work his way back from an oblique injury.
“It’s always good when a coach has confidence to run you out in a situation like that,” Rumbelow said. “It’s a process, and with each outing, the pitches are going where I want them more and more, and I’m getting comfortable.”
The LSU offense responded to help maintain the lead, but the Tigers also capitalized on some untimely Washington errors. Already up 3-0 in the fifth, Mitsui dropped what would have been an inning-ending out at first base, allowing Chris Sciambra to score from second.
LSU added two more unearned runs in that inning behind a two-run double by Christian Ibarra, who finished with two hits and three RBI, boosting the lead to 6-0.
After LSU responded with another insurance run in the seventh, the Tigers picked up two more unearned runs in the eighth to add some cushion to their lead. Robert Pehl botched a grounder at second, allowing Ty Ross to score. Two batters later, Raph Rhymes, who extended his hitting streak to 12 games Friday, drove home Mark Laird with a single to right.
“[Washington] had a lot of fight in them,” said Rhymes, who went 3-for-5 at the plate with two RBI. “That put some pressure on the offense that we had to get those back. That showed they weren’t going to quit, so we had to turn it up offensively.”
Washington didn’t go down quietly though, mounting a threat in the final frame. Kevin Berry entered in the ninth but didn’t record an out, allowing all three hitters he faced to reach and load the bases.
Chris Cotton prevented the late comeback, retiring the next three Huskies in order, including the pop-out to centerfield that sealed the victory.
“We were this close from playing a really great game,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “There were a couple of things where I need to make some coaching points or we would have looked like a really great balllclub tonight…
“Obviously Nola was phenomenal for six innings. I don’t know if he hit the wall or they had some great at-bats against him…Those kind of things happen, but I was proud of our team for the poise they showed when Washington came back.”
LSU returns to the diamond Saturday for Game 2 against Washington. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.
Ryan Eades (2-0, 0.49 ERA) will take the mound for LSU against Washington ace Austin Voth (2-1, 2.95 ERA, 31 K).