BATON ROUGE, La.- Senior shortstop Austin Nola launched a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning Friday night to lift No. 3 LSU to a 6-5 victory over Georgia in Game 1 of a three-game SEC series.
The Tigers moved to 34-9 and 13-6 in the SEC, and now have a four-game lead in the SEC Western Division standings. Georgia dropped to 24-19 and 8-11 in the SEC.
Game 2 of the series will begin at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Alex Box Stadium. Right-hander Ryan Eades will start on the mound for LSU, and Georgia will counter with right-hander Michael Palazzone.
LSU left-hander Chris Cotton (5-0) picked up the victory in relief Friday and Nick Goody earned his eighth save on the year. Starter Kevin Gausman (7-1) allowed 10 hits, all of them singles, and five runs (three earned) while striking out nine batters.
Georgia reliever Bryan Benzor (4-4) was charged with the loss following Nola's eighth-inning home run that erased a 5-4 Bulldog lead. UGA starter Alex Wood permitted four runs (three earned), eight hits and two walks and fanned two batters.
LSU leftfielder Raph Rhymes advanced his hitting streak to nine games in a 3-for-4 effort. The junior is now batting .503 on the year. Second baseman JaCoby Jones blasted a solo shot and third baseman Tyler Hanover added a pair of hits and two runs.
"The difference between winning and losing in the SEC is so small, and that certainly was evident tonight," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "Both teams have great ball players that gave tremendous efforts tonight. Our players just refused to give up - we faced a lot of adversity, but this team plays with a lot of confidence and we were able to earn a very important win."
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LSU struck first against Wood in the opening frame. Jones unloaded a leadoff homer to left field for his second dinger of the season.
Georgia knotted the game at 1-1 in the top of the second inning. Three consecutive two-out singles brought home a run. Rhymes made a spectacular diving catch in the Georgia bullpen for the final out of the inning.
The LSU offense manufactured two runs in the bottom of the second inning to take the lead back. Hanover led off the inning with a single and catcher Ty Ross drew a walk on four pitches. First baseman Tyler Moore moved both runners over with a sacrifice bunt.
Designated hitter Jordy Snikeris plated Hanover and moved Ross to third on a single through the left side, and Snikeris moved to second on a subsequent wild pitch. Jones drove home his second run in the contest when first baseman Jonathan Hester threw home after fielding a grounder and Ross beat the throw to the plate.
Georgia responded in the top half of the third and managed to score two runs on five hits. Four consecutive singles, three that didn't leave the infield, brought home Curt Powell. Gausman struck out Hunter Cole for the first out of the inning, but Peter Verdin notched a single just behind first to score Welton and keep the bases loaded. Gausman worked out of further damage by striking out Justin Bryan and Hester.
The Tigers regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth. Hanover led off the inning with a double to left and moved to third on a passed ball. Moore's groundout plated Hanover to push LSU ahead 4-3.
Georgia converted two singles, two errors and a wild pitch into two unearned runs in the top of the fifth to take a 5-4 lead.
Cotton entered the game in the seventh and kept margin at one by striking out two and forcing Cole to fly out. He also pitched a scoreless eighth, setting up a dramatic rally in the bottom of the frame.
Rhymes led off the eighth with a single and Nola sent Alex Box Stadium into a frenzy with a deep two-run shot to left field, his second homer of the season.
"Austin Nola has a well-earned reputation within the SEC for being a clutch hitter, and he demonstrated that again tonight, " Mainieri said. "He's been such a clutch player for us throughout his career, and he came through in a big way with his best swing of the season."
The game, however, did not end without more drama. In the top of the ninth inning, Georgia placed a runner on third with one out, but Goody forced Farmer and Deloach to pop out for the victory.
LSU 6, Georgia 5 (Apr 27, 2012 at Baton Rouge, La.)
Georgia............. 012 020 000 - 5 12 0 (24-19, 8-11 SEC)
LSU................. 120 100 02X - 6 11 2 (34-9, 13-6 SEC)
Pitchers: Georgia - Alex Wood; Bryan Benzor(8) and Brett DeLoach.
LSU - Kevin Gausman; Chris Cotton(7); Nick Goody(9) and Ty Ross.
Win-Chris Cotton(5-0) Save-Nick Goody(8) Loss-Bryan Benzor(4-4) T-3:02 A-11115
HR LSU - JaCoby Jones (2); Austin Nola (2).
Actual Attendance: 7,797