HOOVER, Ala. — The pitchers' duel between Aaron Nola and Ryne Stanek lived up to the billing, but it was the two innings after Nola's departure that did in LSU against Arkansas on Thursday.
Nola left a tied game after seven innings, but four LSU relievers were unable to hold it in the Tigers' 4-1 loss. Arkansas scored three runs in the eighth and ninth innings to send LSU into the losers' bracket of the SEC Tournament.
"This is what happens," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "You have to run guys out there, and you have to give them the experience in this kind of setting. It didn't work out for us tonight, but there will be another day where it pays off for us."
With the game tied 1-1, Joey Bourgeois replaced Nola to start the eighth inning after the sophomore ace tossed seven frames of one-run ball. But it didn't take long for the bullpen to spoil Nola's outing.
Bourgeois surrendered hits to two of the three batters he faced before giving way to Nick Rumbelow with one out and runners on the corners. Tyler Spoon, who went 3-for-4 at the plate for Arkansas, dropped a bunt that brought in Matt Vinson, who darted home on a safety squeeze.
The Razorbacks tacked on two more insurance runs in the ninth off relievers Kurt McCune and Will LaMarche. Eric Fisher opened the inning with a single to right, then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. He stole third with two outs and LaMarche on the mound.
Joe Serrano brought him home — one of two RBI for the Arkansas DH — with a hard-hit liner off LaMarche's foot. Serrano would eventually get to third on a stolen base and wild pitch, before he scored on another safety squeeze.
"Unfortunately we just didn't get the job done out of the bullpen to keep it a tied score," Mainieri said. "We knew it would be this kind of game. We just didn't take advantage of the scoring opportunities we had."
The loss tarnished an otherwise dazzling return to action for Nola, who hadn't pitched since May 10 against Texas A&M. Nola struck out eight compared to just one walk, and surrendered only the lone run on six hits.
But Nola wasn't quite as efficient as usual. He left the game after throwing 108 pitches, which was as many as he threw in any of his four complete games this year.
"I thought Aaron was phenomenal, but he had to use a few more pitches to get through seven innings," Mainieir said. "The difference in the game was me not being able to go the eighth inning with him and they stayed with their guy."
For the second night in a row, the offense failed to provide much run support. Arkansas ace Ryne Stanek — a likely early-round pick in the MLB Draft — limited LSU to only an unearned run on six hits in eight innings of work.
Stanek has been a thorn in LSU's side his entire career, and didn't allow an earned run to the Tigers in 14 2/3 innings this season.
"You have to tip your hat to Stanek," Mainieri said. "He's really good. He's about ready for the big leagues. I'm tired of seeing him pitch against us. Let's move him on to another level."
LSU struck early to take a lead in the third inning. Sean McMullen and Mark Laird started a two-out rally with consecutive singles. Alex Bregman then chopped one up the middle, and instead of attempting to get the out at first, Arkansas SS Brett McAfee flipped it to second.
The ball rolled into the outfield, and McMullen came around to score.
The Tigers didn't cross the plate again after that, but did mount a threat in the fourth. Stanek walked three consecutive batters to load the bases with two outs, but McMullen was unable to drive them home, instead popping out on a shot to deep center.
Of LSU's 10 base runners on Thursday, eight reached with two outs, and after that fourth-inning threat, none were able to make it past first base.
"I tip my hat to Stanek," said Raph Rhymes, who went 1-for-4 at the plate. "He was great all night. We had some good opportunities. We had to take advantage of those, and we didn't do it."
Arkansas tied it in the fifth. Jean Ramirez singled up the middle with one out, then on a perfectly-executed hit-and-run, scored on a RBI-double by Serrano.
The Razorbacks would later go on to take the lead while the pitching staff continued to dominate, retiring in order the final 10 batters.
"You don't get a lot of opportunities against those guys," Mainieri said. "And you have to take advantage when you do. If you don't, you're probably not going to win the game, and that's what happened tonight."
LSU must now win three games in three days in order to take the tournament title. That will start Friday at 3 p.m. when the Tigers face Alabama in a rematch from Wednesday. LSU took the first meeting 3-0 behind a big first inning, and shutout performance by Cody Glenn.
Ryan Eades will get the start for LSU.
"We're just going to win one game a time," Mainieri said. "It's such a daunting task if you think of it in terms that we have to win Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It can be overwhelming. So all we can think about is winning tomorrow."
Was Nola pulled too early?
Bullpen lets LSU down in 4-1 loss
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