Aaron Nola sensational again, LSU beats Gators

Aaron Nola is turning Friday night into Groundhog Day for the LSU baseball team.

He threw a complete game for the fourth consecutive Friday as the Tigers defeated Florida 5-0 in chilly, windy Alex Box Stadium.

He got his ninth victory in as many decisions as LSU improved to 12-0 in games he has started, including one Thursday night outing.

Nola threw an efficient 108 pitches to stay consistent with his 109-, 110- and 112-pitch complete games. His four-hitter — which included one walk and one hit batsman — was his second shutout during the streak. He sandwiched a shutout of Alabama between nine-inning victories against Arkansas and South Carolina.

About the only change to Nola’s recent routine came in the form of a season-low three strikeouts for the Southeastern Conference leader, though he heated up late by getting one in each of the last three innings.

“I was trying to strike them out,” Nola said with a smile, “but they were aggressive and hitting the ball. I was able to get some quick innings, though.”

It’s the first time an LSU pitcher has thrown four consecutive complete games since Mike Sirotka did it in 1993.

The victory was No. 300 for Paul Mainieri as LSU coach and improved the Tigers to a school-record 42-6 as well as 18-5 in the SEC.

“The nice thing about that benchmark,” Mainieri said, “is it puts us that much closer to No. 301.”

The Tigers can get No. 301 and their fourth sweep in eight SEC series when they face the Gators (25-22, 12-11) at noon Saturday.

“Nola had great command of all three of his pitches,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I thought we pitched well — just a few mistakes on some pitches we could have located better.”

The game-time temperature was an unseasonably cool 53 degrees, and a 14-mph wind was blowing in.

“It was a pitcher’s night,” Mainieri said. “Aaron didn’t need many strikeouts because there was no way anybody was hitting the ball out tonight. In fact, if he had gotten more strikeouts, his pitch count would have been higher, and he never would have pitched the complete game.”

With Nola pitching in such difficult hitting conditions, Mainieri played for an early run or two, figuring it would be a low-scoring game.

After Sean McMullen walked leading off against Bobby Poyner (2-2) in the first, Mainieri had Mark Laird try to sacrifice, but Laird bunted into a fielder’s choice and the threat fizzled.

“I was very upset that we didn’t get that bunt down,” Mainieri said, though Laird atoned later.

In the second, Raph Rhymes led off with a single, and Christian Ibarra was hit by a pitch. Ty Ross sacrificed, and JaCoby Jones sent Rhymes home with a grounder to second.

“We can’t rely on Nola to do this all the time,” Jones said, “but with the way he’s pitching, if we can get a couple of runs early, it makes it more comfortable for him.”

In the fifth, Jones led off with a single, and Jared Foster reached on a single when Poyner was slow to the first with the ball after fielding Foster’s bunt.

McMullen doubled in a run, and Laird hit an RBI grounder that made it 3-0 and finished Poyner.

“That was a real good inning,” Mainieri said. “We never go into a game expecting Nola to throw a complete game. You just hope he can go deep into the game and put you in a good position to win.”

LSU hustled its way to two unearned runs in the eighth. With two outs and the bases loaded, Andrew Stevenson beat out a grounder to short, and Ross beat the relay from first base to the plate.

The Gators threatened in the third when Nola hit Josh Tobias leading off and Harrison Bader followed with an infield single. Cody Dent tried to sacrifice, but Ross grabbed the ball in front of the plate and threw to third for a force out.

Tobias and Bader pulled off a double steal, but Nola got Richie Martin to line out to shortstop and Casey Turgeon to ground back to the mound.

Nola retired 10 in a row before giving up his first walk, which put Martin on with one out in the sixth.

One out later, Martin stole second, but Nola left him there by getting Taylor Gushue to ground to first.

The Gators threatened in the seventh when Justin Shafer led off with a single to center and Powers followed by reaching on an infield single as the ball bounced off shortstop Alex Bregman’s glove.

Vickash Ramjit followed with a liner to Bregman’s right. He jumped to catch the ball and fired it to Jones to double Shafer off second.

“I was expecting another ground ball, but (Ramjit) hit a liner to my right,” Bregman said. “I saw the runner break out of the corner of my eye, and I knew we had a chance for the double play.”

Nola then got his first strikeout as Tobias looked at strike three. That began a game-ending streak of eight straight batters retired, including strikeouts to begin the eighth and ninth. When Nola shut out Alabama, he retired the final 12 batters.

“Aaron is so efficient; that’s why he’s able to be so strong late in the game,” Ross said. “He throws strikes so consistently that hitters know they have to swing, then he makes them swing at his pitches.”

Three on Golden Spikes list

Nola, Bregman and teammate Mason Katz were named to the Golden Spikes Award watch list, released Friday by USA Baseball. The Golden Spikes Award will be presented to the top amateur baseball player in the country July 19.

The Tigers and Georgia Tech are the only schools with three representatives on the watch list. Nola and Bregman were chosen previously to play for Team USA this summer.