COLUMBIA, Mo. — Aaron Nola jogged off of the field toward the dugout to the cheers of the very few fans in the crowd wearing purple and gold.
There were runners on first and second with two outs in the eighth inning, and now it was Chris Cotton’s turn to close out the game.
Nola’s teammates were the first to congratulate him, greeting the sophomore right-hander with high fives and slaps on the back after his best performance of the season.
On Friday, Nola pitched a career best 7.2 innings, striking out ten and walking only one, leading No. 2 LSU past Missouri 2-0.
“Aaron made so many big pitches,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I don’t remember him making a mistake the whole night. It just seemed like every time he needed to put it where he needed to put it, he did. He didn’t make a single mistake. That was about as close to perfection as you can get. He was fantastic.”
But Nola was not the only reason why the Fighting Tigers improved their record to 24-2 and 6-1 in Southeastern Conference play.
LSU faced a very tough pitcher in Missouri left-hander Rob Zastryzny, who went 7.2 innings, striking out seven and surrendering only five hits.
One of those hits came in the fourth inning, a Mason Katz home run that sailed high over the left field wall to give the Fighting Tigers a 1-0 lead.
“I’ve been getting a lot of good pitches to hit,” Katz said. “A huge part of hitting is taking advantage of pitcher’s mistakes, and I’ve done that fairly well so far.”
The home run was Katz’s 11th of the season, and it could not have come at a better time.
“The thing about his 11 home runs, they’ve all mattered,” Mainieri said. “It’s not like he hits them when the score is 10-1. He hits them when they matter the most, because let me tell you, that left-hander that we faced was tough, and he was pretty much owning us until Mason hit that home run, and then after that, he owned us again.”
Missouri threatened LSU’s early lead in the bottom half of the fourth, when a wild pitch from Nola advanced Missouri catcher Dylan Kelly to third base with only one out.
But Nola was able to strikeout the next batter, and then force a groundout to get the Fighting Tigers out of the inning.
In the top of the sixth, LSU shortstop Alex Bregman had an opposite field single to right field, pushing his hitting streak to 14 games.
LSU was only able to muster six hits, getting an insurance run in the top of the eighth on a line drive from senior Raph Rhymes that was bobbled for an error by Missouri second baseman Kendall Keeton, scoring Andrew Stevenson and pushing the lead to 2-0.
Cotton came in to replace Nola in the eighth, forcing a groundout to end the inning. He gave up a single in the ninth but recorded two strikeouts and a groundout to end the game, notching his seventh save of the season.
“It was a tremendous ballgame,” Mainieri said. “Not if you like a lot of offense, but if you like a great pitcher’s duel. We just played a little bit better than them, and this is the way SEC baseball games are. Every single one of them are tough, so every time you win one, you take a deep breath and be proud of yourselves.”
Nola (7-4) lowered his ERA to 2.74, and securing the win in LSU’s first trip to Columbia.
LSU will start junior right-hander Ryan Eades (5-0, 1.63 ERA) against Missouri right-hander Brett Graves at 1 p.m. Saturday.
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