LSU unveiled three old pitchers in new roles to rave reviews on opening night Friday in Alex Box Stadium.
Aaron Nola did a mean Kevin Gausman impersonation, Joey Bourgeois set up closer Chris Cotton the way Cotton set up Nick Goody last year and Cotton debuted as the No. 1 closer.
It all added up to a four-hit shutout as the Tigers defeated Maryland 1-0 to win their opener for the 12th straight season.
Nola yielded just two hits and a walk and struck out nine, one short of his career-high, in 62⁄3 innings to get the win while throwing the 85 pitches coach Paul Mainieri scripted for him. Bourgeois threw a scoreless inning to set up Cotton, who threw 11⁄3 scoreless for the save.
“I don’t know how hard Nola was throwing, but it seemed like 96, 97 miles an hour,” catcher Ty Ross said. “Then Joey comes in throwing hard. Then Cotton throws every pitch for a strike and pulls the string on a 72 mile an hour changeup. Those are three of our guys, and they all did what we needed them to do.”
Nola was in command from the start. He struck our Charlie White leading off the game to start a 1-2-3 first. He gave up a one-out walk in the second and a one-out single in the third but got the next two hitters in each inning. Nola retired the Terrapins in order in the fourth and the fifth, striking out two in both innings.
He only struck out one in the sixth but retired the side in order again. His string of 11 consecutive batters retired ended when Kyle Convissar singled to lead off the seventh.
“That’s as good an outing as I’ve had in a long time,” Nola said. “All my stuff was working — my fastball, my changeup and my curveball.”
Nola struck out K.J. Hockaday, but after Michael Montville flied out to deep left, Mainieri brought in Bourgeois.
“The story of the game for us was Aaron Nola,” Mainieri said. “He was absolutely fantastic. He showed clearly that he’s one of the best pitchers in (the Southeastern Conference) if not the country. His performance was Gausman-usque.”
Bourgeois struck out Anthony Papio, who had struck out in both at bats against Nola, to end the seventh. He got the first two outs in the eighth, then hit Blake Schmit with a pitch.
That brought on Cotton. Schmit broke for second as Cotton was throwing to first, and he was caught trying to steal.
Cotton got the first two outs in the ninth before two Maryland runners reached base. But Cotton induced a groundout to end the game.
“I threw a fair number of changeups, and I was able to get them out front,” he said.
LSU scored the game’s only run in the third when center fielder Chris Sciambra hit a one-out ground-rule double for the second of his career-high four hits in as many at bats. He scored one out later on Alex Bregman’s single to center on an 0-2 pitch.
“It was a dream come true,” said Bregman, a highly touted freshman from Albuquerque, N.M. “When I saw the ball go through the infield, I was all smiles. It was such a blast. I lost my voice out there.”
Sciambra, playing for the first time since suffering a neck injury that sidelined him for the final 41 games last season, seemed more impressed by Nola than his own theatrics.
“That’s what I’ve come to expect, but I still stand out there in center field and watch the way his ball moves and it still amazes me sometimes,” Sciambra said. “I think I know Aaron Nola, then he shows me something else.”
Mainieri said RHP Kurt McCune, who was scheduled to be available to close Saturday so Cotton could start Sunday, felt back spasms and might not be available this weekend. If Cotton has to stay in the bullpen, Brent Bonvillain would start Sunday. … This was the Tigers’ first 1-0 victory since beating Tulane by that score in 1995. … The paid attendance of 12,373 was an LSU record, and the actual attendance was 9,746.
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