No. 3 LSU (42-6, 18-5) entered Friday’s game against No. 21 Florida (25-22, 12-11) looking for a series victory after defeating the Gators on Thursday night. They got exactly that as LSU came out victorious on the night by a score of 5-0 behind a phenomenal pitching performance by sophomore Aaron Nola. Not only did LSU win the series, but coach Paul Mainieri also claimed his 300th victory as the head of the LSU program with Friday’s win. In terms of SEC standings, the game on Friday had huge implications, especially with Arkansas winning their series opener against Kentucky.
Despite bad weather conditions, LSU managed to collect nine hits and took the lead in the second inning when JaCoby Jones drove in Raph Rhymes from third on a ground ball to the right side of the infield. The Tigers never looked back from that point on.
LSU added two more runs in the fifth inning when Jones and Jared Foster got the inning started with back-to-back singles. Sean McMullen drove in Jones on a double to left field. Foster later scored when Mark Laird hit a ground ball to the right side of the infield.
The final scoring for LSU came in the eighth inning. Christian Ibarra and Ty Ross both scored on the same strange play. Andrew Stevenson hit a routine ground ball to the shortstop with two outs in the inning. However, because of his elite speed, Stevenson was able to beat out the ball, which scored Ibarra from third. Ross was on second base when the play started, but hustle resulted in him making a heads-up play and scoring when Florida lost focus, as Stevenson was called safe.
It has become very apparent that the Florida pitching staff is full of very powerful arms. Because of that, LSU had to take what they were given throughout the night.
Florida starter Bobby Poyner didn’t have a bad outing for the Gators, but he was pulled when he allowed several LSU base runners to get on with one out in the fifth inning. Mainieri was very complimentary of the pitchers that Florida put on the mound tonight.
“Florida threw a lot of quality guys at us tonight,” said Mainieri. “It’s not easy when you have to face a staff like that with the kind of arms that they have.”
The Tigers certainly showed tonight that they have the ability to drive in runs when the opportunity arises. While the LSU lineup could have produced more hits, Mainieri was proud of his team given the weather conditions on Friday night.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of offense tonight, but it was a very difficult night,” said Mainieri. “The conditions were pretty bad tonight.”
Aaron Nola had perhaps his best start of the 2013 season tonight by throwing a complete game (his fourth in a row), allowing four hits and one walk. Entering the game, Nola was leading the SEC in strikeouts, however, he only collected three tonight, resulting in better efficiency and a lower pitch count throughout the night.
The fourth-straight complete game by Nola is the longest streak since former Tiger Mike Sirotka accomplished the same feat in 1993.
Following the game, Paul Mainieri was very impressed with what he saw from Nola.
“I’m glad he didn’t have many strikeouts because it would have caused his pitch count to go up,” said Mainieri. “Because of the weather tonight, he didn’t need strikeouts because the ball wasn’t going to go anywhere if they hit it. He pitched very smart tonight and it was a great game.”
With complete games becoming somewhat routine for Nola, tonight was a little bit different for the talented sophomore.
“I tried to get strikeouts, but they just weren’t happening,” said Nola. “They were really aggressive at the plate tonight. My pitch count stayed down and I stayed around the zone. That helped me out a lot.”
Even though he catches Nola on a daily basis, Ty Ross is beginning to see something unbelievable happen with the ace of the LSU staff. Tonight was no different as Ross explained that Nola stayed around the zone and made the Gators hit his best pitches all night.
“It just shows how hard the kid works,” said Ross. “He’s just so efficient that he remains strong late in the game. When you are as consistent as he is, hitters have to swing. He was around the zone and people had to swing at his best pitches. It helped save his pitch count.”
LSU will go for the series sweep over Florida on Saturday at noon in Alex Box Stadium. Mainieri is looking forward to going after win number 301 tomorrow.