Home run lifts LSU over Georgia, 6-5
Georgia had LSU on the ropes thanks to a dozen singles, but Austin Nola’s two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning rallied the Tigers to a 6-5 victory against Georgia in the opener of a three-game Southeastern Conference series Friday night in Alex Box Stadium.
Bryan Benzor (4-4) relieved Bulldogs starter Alex Wood to start the eighth with a 5-4 lead and was greeted by a leadoff single from Raph Rhymes, who went 3-for-4 to raise his NCAA-leading batting average to .503. Nola drilled a 2-0 pitch over the wall in left for his second homer of the season.
Chris Cotton (5-0) gave up one hit in two scoreless innings in relief of starter Kevin Gausman, and Nick Goody pitched out of a jam in the ninth inning for his eighth save.
“That was just two SEC teams battling it out,” Goody said.
LSU (34-9 and 13-6 in the SEC) won its eighth consecutive conference game at home. The Tigers and Bulldogs (24-19 and 8-11) will meet again at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
After Rhymes led off the eighth with a single, Tigers coach Paul Mainieri gave Nola the bunt sign. Nola took two balls and Mainieri switched to the hit-and-run.
“Austin showed a good eye, and when the count got to 2-0, I figured they were going to lay a fastball in there,” Mainieri said. “Austin’s a pretty good fastball hitter. I started the runner to stay out of the double play in case he hit the ball hard on the ground, but I was hoping he’d hit something in the gap. He did a little better than that.”
There was no doubt the ball was going to be over the fence as soon as Nola hit it, and the crowd of 7,797 roared and jumped to its feet.
“I was thinking he’s going to throw me a fastball because he thinks I’m bunting and that’s what he did,” Nola said. “He threw me a fastball and left it up, and I got a good swing on it.”
Georgia, which had tied the score or taken the lead in its first at-bat after each of the previous three innings in which LSU scored, didn’t go down easily in the ninth. Leadoff hitter Curt Powell singled to right and stole second. Conor Welton’s grounder to second moved the potential tying run to third with one out.
Goody got Kyle Farmer to hit a high pop-up between first and second that three Tigers converged on. Right fielder Mason Katz called off second baseman JaCoby Jones and first baseman Tyler Moore and made the catch as he reached the infield dirt, holding Powell at third.
Cleanup hitter Brett DeLoach got ahead of Goody 2-0 before taking two strikes. Powell fouled off two pitches before taking ball three. After Goody had thrown seven straight fastballs to DeLoach, pitching coach Alan Dunn called for a slider and DeLoach fouled it off. Dunn called for another slider and DeLoach hit a pop-up that catcher Ty Ross caught in foul territory for the final out.
“I just wanted to throw the best slider I could possibly throw,” Goody said of the final pitch.
Gausman didn’t give up an extra-base hit but yielded 10 of the singles in seven innings. He struck out nine and didn’t walk a batter. He gave up five runs, three earned.
Four of the hits didn’t leave the infield, two others were grounders that found a hole and one was a blooper that fell in.
“It was just one infield hit after another,” Gausman said. “Even the regular hits they got were like seeing-eye ground balls that found their way through the infield.
“I was comfortable with all of my pitches. I was able to throw them all for strikes. I felt comfortable with my outing. I kept my team in the game.”
Gausman retired Georgia in order in the top of the first, and Jones gave him a 1-0 lead by leading off the bottom half with his second homer of the season.
After two outs in the second, Peter Verdin and Justin Bryan hit back-to-back grounders between third and short into left field for singles. Jonathan Hester followed with a bloop single to right that tied the score.
LSU responded in the bottom half as Tyler Hanover led off with a single and Ross followed with a walk. Moore advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt and Jordy Snikeris followed with an RBI single.
Ross held third as Snikeris advanced on a wild pitch, then scored on Jones’ grounder to first as Hester’s throw home was late. That gave the Tigers a 3-1 lead.
The Bulldogs continued to chip away in the third. Powell led off by beating out a grounder to third for a single and advanced to second when Welton grounded a single to right. Kyle Farmer bunted to third and beat Hanover’s throw to get a single and load the bases. DeLoach hit a grounder to shortstop, and Nola looked to second before throwing to first. The ball bounced to Moore, and DeLoach beat the throw for an RBI single.
After Hunter Cole struck out, Verdin hit a blooper over Moore’s head that Jones fielded but he didn’t have a play. Welton came home to tie the score at 3. Gausman left the bases loaded and the score tied by striking out Bryan and Hester.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pitcher have as much bad luck as Gausman had in the third,” Mainieri said. “It was unbelievable, and we were lucky to get out of it with only two runs scoring. Gausman had to show what he was made of.”
LSU regained the lead by scoring an unearned run in the fourth. Hanover led off with a double and moved to third on a passed ball. After Ross popped out, Hanover scored on Moore’s grounder to second.
Georgia came right back with a pair of unearned runs in the fifth. Farmer and DeLoach began the inning with consecutive singles. Cole hit a grounder to Hanover at third. He stepped on the bag to force Farmer but his throw to first was wild, allowing the runners to reach second and third.
Gausman’s wild pitch sent DeLoach home with the tying run before Verdin struck out. Bryan hit a grounder to Hanover, who threw wildly to first again, allowing Cole to score, giving the Bulldogs a 5-4 lead.