No. 2 LSU faces No. 15 South Carolina in a pivotal SEC showdown as the Tigers look to keep pace for…
Nola goes the distance in 5-2 win
Aaron Nola tossed his third consecutive complete game in the series opener with No. 15 South Carolina to give the No. 2 Tigers a 5-2 victory at Alex Box Stadium. Nola went the distance, earning his eighth win of the season with eight strikeouts compared to two runs on six hits.
"You can't just go into the game expecting that kind of performance, but if anyone can do it, it's this guy," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "Not only does he have terrific stuff…he does it in such an efficient way. He just throws so many strikes."
Nola retired the first 10 batters he faced, and with that complete-game effort, it marked the first time a LSU pitcher had thrown three straight since Greg Smith did it in 2005.
"I didn't know that until someone came up and told me," Nola said. "But it feels good…More pitches were working for me than last weekend."
Nola also benefitted from some early run support. LSU jumped ahead 2-0 in the second inning on a two-out, two-run single by Sean McMullen. Ty Ross got things started with a two-out walk, and JaCoby Jones followed suit.
Those two walks marked just the sixth and seventh free passes issued this season by South Carolina starter Nolan Belcher.
Jared Foster, who started just his third game of the season on Friday, kept the inning alive with a single to load the bases before McMullen drove in a pair with his shot to right.
"Momentum's hard to stop, and Foster kept our momentum going," McMullen said. "Every time I went to bat, I had a lot of confidence."
That foursome would again bring in a run in the fourth. Ross, Jones and Foster loaded the bases with back-to-back-to-back singles before McMullen drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to center.
While the 4-5-6 hitters for LSU went 0-for-9 at the plate, the bottom three hitters — Ross, Jones and Foster — combined to hit 6-for-10 with three runs scored.
"We didn't get anything out of our 4-5-6 hitters…and yet we still were able to score five runs," Mainieri said. "That tells you something about the balance of the lineup."
LSU would proceed to tack on a run in each of the sixth and seventh innings — Alex Bregman and Ross notching RBIs. That would be all the offense the Tigers needed as Nola dazzled through all nine innings.
South Carolina didn't mount much of a threat until the Gamecocks drove home a run in the fifth. Connor Bright reached on a two-out single up the middle before Tanner English dropped one in front of Mark Laird in center.
Laird attempted to dive for it, but the ball rolled past him as one run scored and the speedy English hustled around the bases. Raph Rhymes backed up Laird, sending the relay throw to Bregman in shallow center. Bregman fired a one-hopper to Ross at the plate, who made the tag on English to prevent the inside-the-park homer.
"The tag by Ross was a very underrated play," Mainieri said. "To catch the short-hop with a catcher's mitt, block the plate and put the tag on, that was very important. Had that game become 3-2 right there, it would have been a little hairier."
Nola then retired nine of the next 11 batters he faced, before he surrendered a solo-homer to open the ninth inning. After that, Nola sat down the next three Gamecocks, including a pair of strikeouts, to close out the game and give LSU an early advantage in this pivotal SEC series.
"It definitely sets the tone for Saturday and Sunday," Nola said. "We're going to come out, and Ryan [Eades] is going to pitch his butt off. He'll give us a chance to win."
LSU returns to action on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Ryan Eades will take his 7-1 record to the mound, facing South Carolina lefty Jordan Montgomery, who has a 1.14 ERA through 31 2/3 innings pitched this season.
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