Three perfectly placed sacrifice bunts manufactured four LSU runs while junior righty Aaron Nola battled a high pitch count to throw 6 2/3 shutout innings and LSU took the series opener 4-0 against Georgia on Friday in Alex Box Stadium.
A tight strike zone and control issues handcuffed Nola, who issued a career-high four walks, but he scattered only two hits with eight strikeouts, good enough for his fifth win of the season.
Nola threw 31 of his 117 pitches in the first inning, adjusting to home plate umpire Scott Cline's small strike zone. He retired the first two Bulldogs with ease, but issued a single to three-hole hitter Hunter Cole and walked consecutive hitters to load the bases with two out.
"My control kind of got all over the place," Nola said. "I got myself into that big jam, but I pitched out of it. It was difficult at some times, but I did make an adjustment … and made quality pitches to get out of the jam."
The Baton Rouge product fanned Georgia first baseman Jared Walsh on a full count pitch to quash the threat and keep the Bulldogs off the scoreboard.
The strike zone wasn't the only discrepancy the umpiring crew faced early in the game. Senior left fielder Sean McMullen led off the Tiger first with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and swiped third base.
With McMullen at third base, junior Kade Scivicque at first after he was plunked and two outs, junior first baseman Conner Hale sent what appeared to be an RBI single through the right side.
But first base umpire Josh Miller ruled the ball grazed Scivicque in play and impeded the fielder's chances to make a play— an automatic out, nullifying McMullen's run.
"That was a tough break for us," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "We had some really super at-bats in that inning. It took a run off the board and perhaps more, but I think our whole team hung in there and didn't get down."
McMullen and the Tigers responded in the second. Senior third baseman Christian Ibarra singled and was chased home by freshman second baseman Kramer Robertson's groundout while McMullen belted a double to plate Chinea and give LSU a 2-0 lead.
Ibarra added a run in the fourth on another Robertson groundout and cranked RBI double in the fifth to plate Scivicque, totaling the 4-0 final for the Tigers.
It was a welcome evening for Ibarra, who said he's been seeing the ball well and taking good swings, but hadn't had a multi-hit game since a March 2 victory against Yale.
"I said 'finally' after that first hit," Ibarra joked. "I just sat back a little longer, let the ball travel so I wasn't able to ground out so easy like I did before. I felt really good today."
After Nola issued his fourth walk in the sixth, Mainieri inserted junior southpaw Zac Person, who struck out four of the nine batters he faced in an impressive stint into the ninth.
"He was just fantastic," Mainieri said. "He's just been getting better and better. He's throwing in the upper 80s, got a good curveball and no matter if it's a right-handed or left-handed batter, he's going to do a good job."