HOOVER, Ala. — LSU’s offense did what has been the norm Thursday.
The Tigers didn’t need most of the fireworks when they had a bottle rocket on the mound.
Hurling in the mid-90s, ace Aaron Nola struck out seven in 7.1 innings, and the bats were solid again to lead LSU to a 7-2 win over Arkansas, sending the soaring Tigers into the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Nola (10-1) overcame a rocky first inning by retiring 14 straight batters, and LSU won a sixth straight game. This one was a key victory to winning the tournament for a league-leading 11th time and securing a home date for an NCAA regional.
The Tigers (42-14-1) get a bye Friday to the single-elimination semifinal, set for noon Saturday on ESPNews. They’ll play the winner of Friday’s Arkansas-Ole Miss elimination game.
“Gets us to the final four on Saturday,” coach Paul Mainieri said after the victory, “and we’ll make our run at it.”
Mainieri moved to 20-4 in the SEC tournament with the victory, and his LSU teams have won four titles in the five previous times the Tigers have advanced to Hoover.
This one gave his team – on the bubble of hosting an NCAA regional – a boost. The Tigers moved up a whopping four spots in the RPI to No. 12, according to late-night projections from warrennolan.com.
On Thursday, LSU didn’t eclipse the eight-run mark, something it had done in five consecutive games.
They didn’t need to — not with Nola hurling yet another gem against the Razorbacks (37-22), who had a five-game winning streak snapped. He shut down and shut out the Hogs over the next six innings, allowing two base runners over the stretch and one hit.
He got a visit from pitching coach Alan Dunn in that rocky first inning, just the second time that’s happened this year.
“I’m not used to him coming out in the first inning,” Nola said. “Got myself in a jam and got behind in counts. We got that run offensively, and I regrouped and put up some zeroes.”
Arkansas took 1-0 lead in the first inning on an errant throw from catcher Tyler Moore. It was a rough inning for Nola. He allowed two hits and walked back-to-back batters — the last to load the bases. He got out of the jam inducing a grounder to shortstop.
“Sometimes he dominates games and other days he shows his greatness by pitching out of jams,” Mainieri said.
He then went on a tear. Nola retired 14 straight starting with the final batter in the first. He sat down 19 of 21 before being yanked in the eighth after loading the bases.
Nate Fury, Zac Person and Joe Broussard closed the game for an LSU team that’s used no reliever more than an inning in the two games in Hoover.
It sets up LSU for another deep run in an event the program has dominated. The Tigers won in 2008, 2009, 2010 and last season. They’ll play a team Saturday that would have played one (Ole Miss) or two (Arkansas) more games this week. The Rebels and Hogs meet at 3 p.m. Friday.
Regardless of the opponent, Kyle Bouman (4-2, 2.44) is set to start for the Tigers on Saturday, Mainieri said.
LSU won’t have its ace on the mound like it did Thursday.
Nola walked into the Tigers dugout to a rousing standing ovation from the more than 2,000 purple-and-gold clad fans at the Hoover Met. He got what might be his last win over an SEC team.
“He got the better of us today,” said Arkansas center fielder Andrew Benintendi.
His offense backed him up — again.
LSU has now scored 74 runs on 88 hits in the last six games, a span that covers just 49 innings.
Moore had three hits and drove in two runs, including a solo shot that completely left the sprawling park. It tied the score at 1 and helped relax Mainieri, who had “concerns” about his offense in the early going.
LSU took the lead with a two-out rally in the third inning, chasing Aransas starter Colin Poche. Alex Bregman, Chris Chinea and Sean McMullen had consecutive two-out base hits. Bregman started the rally with a line drive double down the left field line.
The Tigers scored runs in the sixth (Moore RBI double) and seventh (Laird stole home on a popout in foul territory) and added two in the eighth (Laird two-RBI single).
They turned a close one into a sixth straight rout. LSU has outscored its opponent 74-7 over the last six games.
It’s not like they need all of them Thursday.
“When Aaron’s pitching,” Laird said, “you don’t need many.”