Right-hander throws second straight complete game; LSU blanks Alabama
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Aaron Nola seems to be getting used to this complete game thing.
The sophomore right-hander from Catholic High School followed his first career complete game with his second in as many starts as the LSU baseball team defeated Alabama 5-0 on Friday night at Thomas-Sewell Stadium.
Nola (7-0) held the Crimson Tide to three hits and one walk and struck out 10, one short of his career-high. He threw 109 pitches and finished strong, retiring the last 12 Alabama batters in order.
“I had a couple of innings where I just went out there and only had to make one or two pitches to hitters and I got outs and the infield made plays,” Nola said. “That helped my pitch count.”
Nola, who matched his walk and strikeout totals from a week ago when he held Arkansas to four hits and two runs, said he has been more economical with his pitches by keeping the ball down more, yet keeping it in the strike zone and inducing more ground balls.
“He’s amazing really,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “You’re watching the growth of a guy as a pitcher. He’s always been a strike-throwing machine, but now he’s throwing a little harder, his curveball is a little tighter, his changeup is a little more deceptive.”
Nola continued to get LSU, ranked No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball, off on the right foot on Friday nights. The Tigers, 36-3 and 14-2 in Southeastern Conference play, are in 6-0 in the conference series openers and Nola has five of the wins and one no-decision.
In his last four starts, he has allowed just 16 hits in 32.2 innings, walking five and striking out 27. His ERA in that stretch is 0.84, lowering his ERA for the season to 2.15.
For the second consecutive week, Nola gave the Tigers bullpen Friday night off, and LSU will go for the series win against Alabama (23-17, 8-8) at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Tigers, who had a season-low three hits in a 4-0 victory against Grambling on Wednesday, had 11 hits, led by Raph Rhymes, who had a single, double, triple and three runs batted in.
“It felt good to have some good at-bats,” said Rhymes, the reigning SEC Player of the Year whose .356 batting average is among the league leaders yet well below his school-record average of .431 last season. “I finally put something together this game.”
Nola gave up a one-out single in the first, but after a fielder’s-choice grounder, he picked Ben Moore off of first to end the inning.
He retired the side in order in the second, striking out two, and struck out two more in the third, allowing just a one-out walk.
After a 1-2-3 fourth, Nola gave up a single to Kyle Overstreet and hit Mikey White in the fifth, but got out of it when Andrew Miller hit into a double play.
Nola gave up a leadoff single to Chance Vincent in the sixth, then got the next three batters, striking out two. He struck out two more as he got the Tide in order in the seventh. He got them in order again in the eighth, striking out one.
In the ninth, Nola started by getting his 10th strikeout against Kenny Roberts and got the next two.
“Aaron Nola was outstanding tonight; I certainly tip my cap to him,” Bama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “When you face guys like him, it makes it even more difficult when you get down three runs early in the game.”
The first two runs came in the first against Bama starter Charley Sullivan (3-4). Mark Laird and Alex Bregman had back-to-back one-out singles and Rhymes followed with a two-run triple to right-center.
The Tigers squandered a scoring opportunity in the second. Ty Ross led off with a single and one out later, Sean McMullen singled him to second, where Ross got picked off. Laird walked and the threat died when Bregman hit a line drive to left fielder Ben Moore.
Rhymes led off the third with a double and Mason Katz followed by walking on four pitches for the second consecutive at-bat. Katz moved to second as Christian Ibarra hit into a double play at third, and Chris Sciambra singled home Katz.
The Tigers increased the lead to 5-0 in the seventh. Casey Yocom, starting at second base in place of JaCoby Jones, who stayed at the hotel because of a stomach illness, led off with a walk.
Left-hander Taylor Guilbeau of Zachary relieved and gave up a single to McMullen and a sacrifice fly to Laird. After a balk and a Bregman single, Rhymes singled home McMullen.
“When you’ve got Bregman in front of you hitting (.423), you come up to bat and there’s not necessarily going to be runners in scoring position,” Rhymes said. “Tonight there were and I took advantage of it.”
Mainieri singled out Rhymes, Bregman and Sciambra for how they supported Nola in a game in which the rest of the Tigers were far from perfect.
“I don’t think we played a particularly great game,” Mainieri said. “We get picked off at second base, fail to get down two sacrifice bunts, drop a ball at first and leave a runner at third with one out. We made our fair share of mistakes, that’s for sure.
“But when your pitcher dominates that way, it makes up for a lot of ills.”
Katz named Athlete of Month
First baseman Mason Katz was selected the Sugar Bowl’s March Amateur Athlete of the Month for Greater New Orleans, the organization announced Thursday.
Katz was selected in voting by the Greater New Orleans Sports Selection Committee.
Katz, a Jesuit High graduate, batted .455 with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs in March for the Tigers, who won 19 of their 20 games.
He was named Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week and SEC Player of the Week on March 18 and April 1.