FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Ten strikeouts and one swing of the bat — to go with more dazzling defense — was all the LSU baseball team needed Friday night.
Aaron Nola struck out 10 and scattered four hits in his first complete game, and Sean McMullen gave LSU the lead for good with his first career home run as the No. 2 Tigers beat No. 10 Arkansas 6-2 at Baum Stadium.
Nola threw 110 pitches, 76 for strikes, and retired Arkansas’ leadoff batter in each inning.
“Nola was magnificent,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “They started hitting some balls hard later in the game, but for most of the game, he was really dominant. He’s a strike-throwing machine. I’ve just got so much confidence in him.”
So much confidence that after LSU scored once in the ninth to make it 6-2, Mainieri asked Nola whether he had enough to finish the game.
“He just asked me if I was feeling all right,” Nola said. “I didn’t have to be a hero; just tell him the truth. And I told him the truth — that I was feeling all right.”
Nola retired Arkansas (24-11, 8-5 Southeastern Conference) in order in the ninth on five pitches, including two one-pitch outs.
“When we got the extra run in the ninth, it allowed me to send him back out there,” Mainieri said. “I was going to give him two batters, and those first two batters got out on the first pitch.”
The only blemish on the night for Nola (6-0) was a two-out, two-run homer in the seventh inning by Eric Fisher that pulled Arkansas within 5-2.
It came two batters after Brian Anderson launched a 2-2 pitch to left field for what appeared to be his third homer of the season. But Raph Rhymes timed his jump perfectly, reaching over the wall and making the catch for the
inning’s second out.
“I just thought Aaron Nola just kind of took it to us, especially early,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He just filled up the strike zone, and we couldn’t do a whole lot. We really didn’t get anything
going until the sixth inning. ... He was really good.”
Nola retired Arkansas in
order until Tyler Spoon hit a two-out single in the fourth. He responded by striking out Anderson to end an Arkansas threat, then struck out two more in a 1-2-3 fifth.
McMullen’s one-out, three-run homer off Arkansas starter Barrett Astin (2-2) in the fifth quickly left the ballpark, sailing over the right-field bullpen. It was the first home run hit against Astin in 104.1 innings.
The home run came in a four-hit inning that included singles from JaCoby Jones, Andrew Stevenson and Alex Bregman.
“I was just trying to be
aggressive,” McMullen said. “A runner was on second base, and I wanted to do anything I could to get that run in.”
LSU (33-2, 12-1) took a 5-0 lead in the sixth thanks to one of four Arkansas errors and a single from Ty Ross. An unearned run in the ninth made it 6-2.
Arkansas has a league-leading 62 errors on the season, including 15 in its past four games. LSU played error-free, including a diving catch from Stevenson for the second out in the ninth. The Tigers have just 22 errors this season.
“My fastball location was really working,” Nola said. “I made the clutch pitches when I needed to, and my defense was phenomenal. It feels good (to throw the complete game). That was one of my goals this year.”
It was the Tigers’ fourth consecutive victory over Arkansas after sweeping the series in Baton Rouge last season. LSU has won 15 in a row, including 10 straight in the SEC.
Junior right-hander Ryan Eades (7-0, 1.30 ERA) is slated to make the start for the Tigers at 6 p.m. Saturday against Arkansas standout Ryne Stanek (3-2, 1.90).
“I told the guys after the game, I’d pay a ticket to that game,” Mainieri said. “Stanek against Eades — they’re two of the best in the country. I’m sure everybody’s excited to see it.”
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