TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Sophomore right-hander Aaron Nola tossed his first career complete game shutout and senior All-American Raph Rhymes collected three hits with three RBI as second-ranked LSU rolled past Alabama, 5-0, in the opening game of a Southeastern Conference series at Sewell-Thomas Stadium on Friday night.
The Tigers (36-3, 14-2 SEC) remained perfect in Friday night contests on the year and maintained their four-game lead in the SEC Western Division standings. Alabama (23-17, 8-8), which was swept last weekend at Ole Miss, dropped its fourth consecutive league contest.
Nola (7-0) was brilliant from start to finish, allowing only three hits while walking one and striking out 10. He retired the final 12 batters of the game. His flawless performance was his second straight complete game, becoming the first LSU pitcher since Kevin Gausman last season to achieve the feat. Gausman fired complete games against Vanderbilt on May 11 and South Carolina on May 18.
“He’s (Nola) been amazing,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. “It’s pretty hard to lose when your pitcher pitches a three-hit shutout. It makes up for a lot of the mistakes you make during the course of the game. Just watching the growth of the guy is amazing to watch. He has always been a strike-throwing machine, but now he throws a little bit harder, his curveball is a little tighter and his changeup is deceptive.”
In addition, Nola became the first LSU pitcher to register a complete game shutout in an SEC contest since Gausman did it against Tennessee on May 13, 2011.
Rhymes finished a single shy of the cycle, going 3-for-4 and he was hit by a pitch in the ninth. Freshman shortstop Alex Bregman tallied his 24th multi-hit game of the season, finishing 2-for-5 with one RBI. Second baseman Casey Yocum, starting in place of JaCoby Jones, scored a run and drew two walks. Jones missed the contest with a stomach virus and is day-to-day.
LSU jumped on Alabama starter Charley Sullivan (3-4) immediately in the first as Mark Laird and Bregman collected back-to-back one-out singles. Rhymes then launched his first career triple into the right centerfield gap scoring both. Nola took to the mound with a 2-0 advantage.
The Tigers stretched the lead to 3-0 in the third when Rhymes led off the frame with a double. Right fielder Chris Sciambra then ripped a single to left that drove in Mason Katz, who scored on a diving play at the plate.
LSU put the game away with two more runs in the seventh. Laird’s sacrifice fly to left brought home Yocum, and Rhymes drove in his third run of the game with a single.
Nola got stronger as the game went on. After allowing a leadoff single to start the fifth, he benefited from a beautiful defensive double play by Bregman. The Tide got the leadoff man on to start the sixth on a Chase Vincent single, but it would be Alabama’s final base runner of the game.
Nola, who fired an economical 109 pitches, was perfect from the seventh on, retiring 12 straight batters to end the game.
Sullivan took the loss, issuing four runs on seven hits with four walks and eight strikeouts in eight innings.
“Alabama has a good team and their pitcher pitched a good game,” said Mainieri. “I have all the respect in the world for (head coach) Mitch (Gaspard). Our lineup is a challenge for other teams. When you sneak a guy like Rhymes in between Bregman and (Mason) Katz, that’s a challenge for any team. I think the case tonight was that Aaron Nola just pitched so great.”
LSU and Alabama meet in game two of the series at 7 p.m. CT Saturday. The contest will be televised on Fox Sports Net (cable channel 1038 HD/38 standard in Baton Rouge) with Dave Neal and Larry Conley handling the call. It can be heard on the LSU Sports Radio Network on WDGL Eagle 98.1 in Baton Rouge or in the Geaux Zone at www.LSUsports.net/live.