LSU starting pitcher Aaron Nola hurled his third consecutive complete game and limited 10th ranked South Carolina to two runs on six hits as the second ranked Tigers defeated the Gamecocks 5-2 on Friday evening at Alex Box Stadium. The Gamecocks are now 31-12 and 11-8 in the SEC with LSU improving to 39-4 and 16-3 in league play.
Joey Pankake belted his ninth home run of the season and Tanner English added a RBI triple as well for the Gamecocks in the loss. Pankake went 2-for-4 to lead Carolina at the plate. LSU would tally 10 hits with Sean McMullen, Ty Ross, JaCoby Jones and Jared Foster all finishing with two apiece. McMullen would drive in three runs as well for the Bayou Bengals.
Nola did not walk a batter and struck out eight to pick up the win. He is now 8-0 on the year. South Carolina starter Nolan Belcher suffered the loss and is 6-4 for the season. He worked 5.2 innings and allowed four runs on seven hits with four walks and four strikeouts.
"Aaron Nola was the story of the game," said South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook. "He's as good as it gets. Nolan battled and tried to keep us in the game, he just didn't have his normal command. (LSU has) a very balanced, very strong, physical team and they played perfect baseball tonight."
LSU broke ahead 2-0 in the bottom of the second inning. Two-out walks to Ty Ross and JaCoby Jones, followed by a base hit by Jared Foster loaded the bases for the Tigers. Sean McMullen then drove the first pitch he saw from Belcher for a base hit into right field scoring both Ross and Jones.
The Tigers scratched across a run in the bottom of the fourth to increase the lead to 3-0. Three consecutive singles from Ross, Jones and Foster loaded the bases with no outs. McMullen drove in his third run with a sacrifice fly to left-center. Belcher limited the damage though as he retired Mark Laird, who attempted to squeeze but popped up the attempt right back to Belcher. Alex Bregman then flied out to left to end the inning.
South Carolina cut the deficit to a pair of runs in the top of the fifth inning. Connor Bright reached base with a two-out single to center field. Tanner English smacked a RBI triple to the gap in left-center to score Bright, his second triple of the season. On the play, English's line drive snuck past a dive by LSU center fielder Mark Laird. English attempted to score with an inside the park home run but the Tigers put together a perfect 7-6-2 relay to nab English out at home plate.
LSU increased the lead back to three runs in the sixth inning. McMullen was hit by a pitch with two outs and Laird singled to left-center to give the Tigers runners on the corners. Right-hander Patrick Sullivan was summoned from the bullpen to replace Belcher. On Sullivan's 2-2 pitch, Bregman knocked a base hit to left field scoring McMullen.
An unearned run pushed LSU ahead 5-1 in the seventh inning. Third baseman Chase Vergason threw high and past Dantzler on a grounder by Raph Rhymes for a two-base error. He would eventually score on a RBI base hit from Ross.
Pankake made it 5-2 in the ninth inning with a solo homer as he drove the first pitch that he saw from Nola into the stands in left field. Nola recovered to retire the next three batters to end the game.
The series continues on Saturday evening with first pitch at 7:30 p.m. ET. The game can heard on the Gamecock Radio Network from IMG College including flagship station, 107.5 FM, "The Game." Cox Sports Television will also broadcast the game.