Aaron Nola nearly perfect as LSU handles Virginia Tech

LSU’s bats finally came alive Friday night.

Ace pitcher Aaron Nola made sure they weren’t the highlight.

Nola pitched a no-hitter through seven innings before being pulled, and the Tigers easily handled Virginia Tech 9-0 on Friday night at Alex Box Stadium.

LSU (5-0) had nine hits, Sean McMullen belted a three-run homer and the Tigers finally broke the seven-run mark in the fifth game of the season.

The spotlight, though? It shone brightly on LSU’s ace.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed this,” coach Paul Mainieri said afterward, “but he’s pretty good.”

Nola struck out eight — at one point four straight — and retired the final 13 batters he faced.

Just two Hokies reached base during his stay on the mound: one on a first-inning error by shortstop Alex Bregman and the second on a third-inning walk.

Freshman reliever Alden Cartwright, a Runnels High grad, replaced Nola to start the eighth inning, drawing a smattering of boos from the announced 7,724.

Mainieri has placed his starters on a pitch count in the early going. Nola finished throwing 87, including 55 for strike.

“I’m sure people would’ve loved to see a no-hitter — I would’ve liked to see a no-hitter,” Mainieri said. “But, A, we’re not going to try to embarrass anybody. And, B, we’re not going to put Nola’s future ahead of anything. If people want to criticize me for taking him out, that’s their prerogative.”

Nola didn’t have a problem with the move.

“You know, I understand where Coach is coming from,” he said. “He wants to save me. It’s early on in the season; it’s only my second start. No need to push anything.”

Cartwright gave up Virginia Tech’s first hit to pinch hitter Tom Stoffel, the third batter of the eighth. The crowd groaned as Stoffel’s hard grounder slipped past the glove of first baseman Tyler Moore and into right field.

LSU has never had a nine-inning no-hitter — individual or combination — in school history. The program has had four individual no-hitters in its history, all of them seven innings.

Nola went the deepest of any LSU pitcher without allowing a hit since Brian Winders went 8.2 innings against Ole Miss in 1995.

Nola, a junior and former Catholic High standout, faced the minimum in his last four innings.

“My control with my fastball was pretty good, especially to righties,” he said. “To lefties, it was kind of so-so. I got in a little jam with that, flying over my right side. I got behind in a good bit of counts, and I went with fastballs and caught them looking.”

The bats were good, too.

LSU scored four runs in the second, three in the third and a final pair in the fourth. McMullen launched a high fastball for a three-run bomb in the second inning, bringing home Tyler Moore and Andrew Stevenson.

Third baseman Christian Ibarra had three singles, the first of those scoring two in the third, as LSU chased Virginia Tech starter Brad Markey in that frame. His replacement walked three in the fourth inning.

LSU hitters drew six walks, and Bregman had a double to start the third. The Tigers went the first four innings with striking out.

“When Aaron pitches, just try to get a couple runs and he pretty much settles in,” McMullen said.

This game belonged to Nola.

In his second start of the season, he looked more composed and in control than he was on opening night. He hit three batters in that 2-0 win over UNO last Friday.

In 13 innings pitched, Nola has allowed four hits and no runs and has struck out 14.

The Tigers have now shut out three of their five opponents and opened the season winning their first five games for the sixth straight season.

Nola never found much trouble, and not many of his seven flyouts were hit hard. He fielded three groundouts himself.

The last batter he faced might have hit the hardest ball. Brendon Hayden sent a line drive to right, and the crowd gasped as it streaked through the air.

Jared Foster raced over to grab the out, and the fans roared.

Not many expected Nola to return. LSU sent its relievers to the bullpen in the seventh inning, while the starter sparkled on the mound.

It was all part of the plan, pitching coach Alan Dunn said.

Cartwright ended up closing out the eighth despite that hit, and then junior-college transfer Zac Person closed the game, also giving up a single.