Austin Nola experienced a season’s worth of emotions in nine innings on Friday, the last of which fell on the bottom end of the spectrum.
After lacing an RBI double to give LSU a one-run lead in the 8th, Nola committed his second error of the night, which opened the door for Florida’s fourth and fifth runs, the runs that made the difference in the Gators’ 5-4 win at Alex Box Stadium.
The error, Nola’s eighth of 2011, followed a Mike Zunino game-tying homerun over the left field bleachers off of Tiger closer Matty Ott.
“It kind of took you back, but it’s part of the game,” Ott said of Zunino’s long ball. “I thought it was a good pitch, but he just put a good swing on it.”
Kamm Washington singled to right after the homer, and he was put in motion on a 2-1 pitch to Josh Adams. Adams chopped a ground ball to Nola, who bobbled it and threw wide of first base to allow both runners to reach safely.
“I should make that play,” Nola said. “I knew we didn’t have a play on the double play. If he didn’t run, maybe I could have waited back. I knew I had to come get it, and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.”
Both runs would score on a Nolan Fontana bases-loaded RBI single, which bounced over the heads of a drawn in Tiger infield.
“Hats off to him. It was a good at bat,” Ott said. “That’s why he’s their leadoff hitter. He battled through it. We were playing infield in, and he chopped it over their heads.”
LSU wouldn’t go quietly in front of an Alex Box record crowd of 10,220.
Down a pair of runs in the ninth, junior Mike Lowery grounded to third base, and Cody Dent fired wildly, allowing Lowery to reach second. Freshman Ty Ross followed with a majestic double that missed a homerun by a matter of feet, narrowing the Gator lead to one with no outs.
JaCoby Jones popped up a bunt for the first out, and Anthony DeSclafani got Trey Watkins and Raph Rhymes looking to end the ballgame.
The loss spoiled another sparkling outing from freshman Kurt McCune.
The Norco native threw seven innings and allowed seven hits and two runs, only one of which was earned, while striking out four.
“That kid is amazing,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “He kept us in it.”
The Tigers spotted McCune two quick runs in the first. Mikie Mahtook’s RBI single scored Trey Watkins, and Mason Katz lifted a sacrifice fly to plate the second run.
With Mahtook and Nola in scoring position, Grant Dozar, a late addition to the lineup, struck out swinging to end the threat.
That was the last time the Tigers would scare Gator starter Brian Johnson. Johnson settled in and retired 12 of 13 LSU hitters from the second to the sixth as his offense continued to make McCune sweat.
The Tiger starter wiggled out of jams in the second and third with double plays turned by Nola and Jones, and after an RBI single by Zunino in the fourth, he got yet another double play to end the inning.
“It’s easy to pitch when you’ve got a defense like that,” McCune said. “Three double plays in clutch situations, that was huge.”
The Gators tallied an unearned run to tie the game in the sixth. Nola kicked his first ground ball of the night, allowing Preston Tucker to reach. Tucker scored on a Johnson single.
Ryan Eades took the ball from his fellow freshman McCune in the seventh and fired a scoreless frame, recording a pair of punchouts in the process.
Eades was in line for the win after Nola’s double broke the 2-2 tie, but it wasn’t to be.
Kevin Gausman takes the ball for Saturday’s 6:30 start. Hudson Randall gets the nod for the Gators who will be bidding to win their ninth straight SEC series.