BATON ROUGE -- All-America pitcher Aaron Nola retired 17 of the final 18 batters he faced to lead the LSU baseball team past second-seed Houston, 5-1, and into the NCAA Regional final.
Nola (11-1) threw 7.1 innings, allowing one run on four hits with a walk and seven strikeouts. Houston's only run came on three of its hits in the bottom of the second. However, with the bases loaded, the righthander got Houston leadoff hitter Kyle Survance to foul out on a diving catch by LSU shortstop Alex Bregman.
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After the second, Nola gave up only a one-out single in the fourth before being relieved to a standing ovation in the bottom of the eighth. Zac Person and Joe Broussard combined to finish off the Cougars.
LSU (46-14-1), which was the visiting team in the winner's bracket game, broke a 1-1 tie with a pair of runs off Houston starter Jake Lemoine (6-7) in the top of the third inning. The Tigers added two more runs in the seventh, which was more than enough for Nola and the stingy Tigers staff.
Winners of 10-straight games, the Tigers advance to face the winner of Sunday's 2 p.m. loser's bracket final between Houston and Southeastern Louisiana. The Lions eliminated third-seeded Bryant, 2-1 in 10 innings, early Saturday.
First pitch for Sunday's nightcap is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT. The game will be streamed live on ESPN3.com and broadcast on the LSU Sports Radio Network beginning at 6:30 p.m. Should Houston advance to face LSU, the Tigers would be the home team; should SLU win the 2 p.m. game, the Lions would be the home team at 7 p.m.
While Nola settled down after a shaky second inning, the LSU offense continued to produce. Andrew Stevenson had three of LSU's 12 hits, while Sean McMullen was 2-for-4 with a pair of runs and Conner Hale collected two hits with two RBI.
The Tigers got on the board first in the top of the second when McMullen doubled to left-center and scored on a singled to center by Hale.
Houston (45-16) tied the game in the bottom half of the second when Justin Montemayor reached on a bunt single, advanced to third on a pair of groundouts and scored on a single to center by Michael Pyeatt. A single and a walk loaded the bases before Bregman sprinted to foul territory behind third base and made a diving catch to end the threat.
In the next frame, Mark Laird walked to start the inning, moved to third on a one-out single by Jake Fraley and scored on a single by McMullen. Though Fraley was caught at third on a double steal, McMullen scored on a single by Hale to extend LSU's advantage to 3-1.
LSU Head Coach Paul Maineri
“It was such a great team victory. Aaron Nola led the way for us once again. He fought through some early struggles and looked like he would only make it through five innings. I looked up at the scoreboard, and we were in the eighth inning. It’s just the greatness of Aaron Nola every time he takes the mound. I thought our hitters did a tremendous job against a tough pitcher. Alex (Bregman) and Jared (Foster) made some great catches. We did what it took to win tonight. It was a pivotal win for us, but we need three wins. Although we’re proud of where we are, we know there is still a lot of work to do tomorrow night.”
On knowing the goals…
“We know that we are only three wins away from getting to the College World Series. We are basically counting them off now. If we are fortunate enough to win one more, then we will celebrate winning a championship. The job won’t be done though. There won’t be a dog pile because we would only be 3/5ths done. We’re aware of what the ultimate goal is and what we have to do to get there."
RHP AARON NOLA
On his pitching performance tonight…
“I felt pretty good tonight. I got myself in that big jam in the second inning. I had 35 pitches or so. I gave up that one run. I made a good bit of mistakes, and they capitalized on it. Luckily our offense was great tonight and batted well.”
On his pitching mentality…
“I don’t think my pitch count was too high tonight. When Coach (Mainieri) took me out, I think I was at 105 or so. My mentality is to go as long as I can and keep the team in the game. That is what I did tonight. I got myself in that jam. After that I tried put up as many zeroes as I could.”
INF CONNOR HALE
On his hitting performance tonight…
“Before my at-bats, Coach (Paul) Mainieri was telling me to take the ball to right field and to not try and do too much. I took that approach, and I got a ball up the middle. The second at-bat I got a little bloop hit.”
INF ALEX BREGMAN
On his RBI single in the seventh inning…
“Mark Laird did a great job on the hit and run. He executed that perfectly. Kramer Robertson went all the way to third, which was great base running. I got a pitch up in the zone, and it was a good pitch to put in play. I was fortunate to put a good swing on it.”
On Aaron Nola’s pitching performance…
“Aaron did a tremendous job tonight. He pounded the zone. He got in that jam, but you know Aaron is a competitor. He’s going to be the same guy every time he takes the mound. He is just going to compete every pitch, and that’s what he did tonight. After that little jam, you look up and it’s the eighth inning already. Aaron Nola is really special on the mound, and we are going to try to get him another start.”
Houston Head Coach Todd Whitting
“Well, I thought we played hard. We played all nine innings as hard as we could go. You know we went up against a buzz saw in (Aaron) Nola, but I thought tonight – I tell the team all the time – it’s not who has the best team, but who plays the best. Tonight, although I thought we played well, I just thought LSU played a little bit better than we did. They were able to cash in on a couple of opportunities. They had a couple of big defensive plays. I thought when we had momentum they kind of took it right back from us. I’m proud of my guys, and I know we’ll respond and be ready to roll tomorrow.”
On if he has pitching plans for tomorrow…
“No, not yet.”
Houston Infielder Michael Pyeatt
On his RBI single in the second inning…
“I was trying to be aggressive early in the count and got a fast ball I could hit to the middle of the field.”
Houston Catcher Caleb Barker
On Houston pitcher Jake Lemoine’s performance …
“I thought Jake was pretty good tonight. I think he ran into some tough luck. He executed some good pitches, kind of have to give LSU credit. They grinded out a lot of at-bats at the plate. I think he fell behind in a couple counts and left a couple pitches up. Give credit to LSU, they took advantage of them.”
On facing LSU pitcher Aaron Nola…
“Obviously, with a guy like (Aaron) Nola, he has really good stuff. But the way he fills up the strike zone with his pitches. If you’re not aggressive, it’s very easy to find yourself behind in the count. When he does get ahead, he has stuff to put you away with. I think tonight, Aaron Nola was as good as advertised like he usually is. I think the numbers speak for themselves. Just attacking the zone, he just made quality pitches all night.”
GAME 4 – NCAA BATON ROUGE REGIONAL
FINAL – LSU 5, HOUSTON 1
- With the win, LSU advances to a 7 p.m. championship round game Sunday against the winner of the 2 p.m. game between Southeastern and Houston. Southeastern will be the home team for that game.
- If Southeastern wins the 2 p.m. game, they will be the home team at 7 p.m. If Houston wins the 2 p.m. game, LSU will be the home team at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
- LSU is now winners of 10 straight games, the longest present winning streak in college baseball.
- The paid tickets sold for the game at 11,702 and the actual crowd of 10,438 was the highest of the 2014 season and the fifth largest actual single game attendance in Alex Box Stadium.
- LSU has now won 99 regional or super regional games in its history which ranks sixth all-time through play on Saturday:
Florida State – 150
Texas – 144 (with a game underway late Saturday)
Miami – 132
Cal St. Fullerton – 111 (with a game underway late Saturday)
Oklahoma State – 100
LSU – 99
- LSU is the all-time leader in regional/super regional win percentage of 77.3 percent (99-29).
- Among those players who have appeared in two games, the average leaders are: Sam Roberson of SLU is at .571 (4-of-7, 1 run, 1 HR, 3 RBI); Conner Hale of LSU (2-of-4, 2 RBI); John Mullen of Bryant (4-of-8, 1 RBI); Carl Anderson of Bryant (5-of-10, 1 RBI); Andrew Stevenson of LSU (4-of-8, 1 2B).