Sophomore righty Aaron Nola carried a perfect game into the seventh inning and No. 8 LSU (13-1) held off a furious Washington rally to capture a gritty 9-4 victory against the Huskies on Friday night in Alex Box Stadium.
With the marquee pitching duel that many envisioned scrapped before the contest, Nola took center stage as he retired the first 18 batters he faced, mixing in curveballs and changeups to go along with his trademark fastball.
"[I used] both parts of the plate all night," Nola said. "My changeup was working really good and so was my curveball."
Washington junior righty Austin Voth, who was slated to start opposite Nola, was replaced with classmate Nick Palewicz less than an hour before first pitch, much to the surprise of LSU coach Paul Mainieri.
Instead, Voth will start Saturday's game opposite LSU junior righty Ryan Eades.
"All week we had been preparing for this real hard-throwing kid," Mainieri said. "I was a little concerned about our players' preparation and how their minds were going to be because they were getting geared up for that guy."
Any of Mainieri's qualms were quickly laid to rest as the Tigers struck for two runs in the third, highlighted by RBI singles from freshman outfielder Mark Laird and senior outfielder Raph Rhymes.
Junior outfielder Christian Ibarra would add an RBI double of his own in the fifth to highlight a three-run frame, spurred on when Washington first baseman Trevor Mitsui dropped a throw from second baseman Robert Pehl on a routine grounder that would have ended the inning.
Now with a 6-0 advantage to work with, Nola continued to stymie the Husky lineup in the sixth inning, inducing two pop outs and a groundout to amp up the 6,178 Tiger fans who wanted to see history.
"Nobody was saying anything to [Nola] in the dugout," Rhymes said. "There was no talking in the dugout whatsoever. I don't think anybody knew that [he had a perfect game]."
Nola fell apart in the seventh, surrendering five singles to seven hitters as the Huskies strung together clutch at-bats to pull within 6-4, ending Nola's night and his bid at history.
"I missed a couple of my spots," Nola said. "I didn't hit the wall. They had some good at-bats against me in the seventh inning."
Clinging to a two-run lead, the Tiger offense responded again adding three insurance runs between the seventh and eighth innings.
Ibarra, who finished with three RBI's on the evening, drove freshman shortstop Alex Bregman in with a single in the seventh and junior catcher Ty Ross scored in the eighth after an error from Pehl to put LSU comfortably ahead 9-4.
The drama wasn't over, though, as senior Kevin Berry was ineffective and loaded the bases to start the ninth, forcing Mainieri to go to senior closer Chris Cotton, who retired the next three Huskies in order to slam the door on any sort of rally.
"I thought we were about this close from playing a really great game tonight," Mainieri said. "There were a couple of things that I needed to make coaching points and we would have looked like a really good ball club."