You'd be hard-pressed to find a team that can strand a runner in scoring position in all eight innings, and still win by 10 runs.
But that's exactly what No. 3 LSU did on Friday as the Tigers routed No. 7 Kentucky 11-1 at Alex Box Stadium. Behind clutch hitting, an effective Aaron Nola and some stellar defensive plays, LSU pulled out one of its most complete victories in a top-10 matchup.
"You think we can count it as two wins since we played so completely?" LSU coach Paul Mainieri joked after the game.
Despite going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position through the first four innings, LSU was able to find its production later in the game. All 11 of LSU's runs on Friday came with two outs, including outbursts of at least three runs in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
"That's what Coach Mainieri preaches is being clutch, getting those two-out RBI," Alex Bregman said. "We did a great job of that tonight. It was a great offensive performance."
Though the lopsided score says otherwise, the contest was close through 4 ½ innings. The Tigers did jump ahead thanks to a Bregman sacrifice fly in the third, but Kentucky came back to tie it in the top of the fifth.
Nola started dominant, retiring the first nine batters he faced before allowing a leadoff walk in the fourth. Nola would walk two more batters in that inning — matching his career-high for a game — to load the bases with two outs. Nola escaped the jam with an innocent pop fly to center.
Nola found himself in trouble again in the next inning. A pair of singles sandwiched around a hit-by-pitch brought in the tying-run for Kentucky and also put runners on the corners with just one out. Nola worked a 0-2 count then got Zac Zellers to ground into an inning-ending double play.
"Those two innings, I was everywhere," Nola said. "I couldn't really command my pitches too well. But I threw the right pitch in the right situation to get out of the inning."
It was all LSU after that as the Tigers busted it open with four runs in the bottom of the fifth. Mark Laird got it started, scoring on a RBI-single by Christian Ibarra, and also scored in each of the next two innings.
He also stole the show defensively.
On a hard-hit ball by A.J. Reed in the first inning, Laird maid a leaping catch against the wall in right-center field. He then topped himself in the third inning as Paul McConkey lifted one that Sean McMullen lost in the twilight.
Laird came sprinting from centerfield and made a diving catch behind McMullen in right field.
"That was the best catch I've ever seen out of a centerfielder, and after the first one he made which was unbelievable too," said Bregman about Laird's defensive heroics. "If those two aren't No. 1 on Sportscenter, I don't know what's going to be No. 1 tonight. I think he shocked every single person in Alex Box Stadium."
Though certainly a highlight-reel catch, LSU didn't necessarily need his defense as the offense carried the Tigers to the victory. All but one player in the starting lineup had a hit, and Mason Katz, JaCoby Jones and Bregman — who extended his hitting streak to 18 games — drove in multiple runs.
"This score was not indicative of the type of game this was," Mainieri said. "This was a tough game, 1-1 in the fifth inning. We could have very easily been down 2-1, and instead we were able to get the runs and tack on."
LSU explodes past Kentucky, 11-1
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