The Tigers (26-8-1, 7-5-1 SEC) entered the eighth inning with a four-run lead behind another dominant performance by Aaron Nola. But the Razorbacks (21-14, 6-7) finally came to life once LSU went to the bullpen and cut the deficit in half in that penultimate inning.
Joe Broussard came through with a perfect ninth though to seal the victory and hand the Tigers their sixth consecutive win.
"It looked like it was going to be easy," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "We're up 4-0 with Nola dominating the game, but this is the SEC and teams don't lay down and die. They fight you all the way to the very end, and that's what Arkansas did."
After seven innings of one-run baseball, Nola came back to start the eighth and issued a four-pitch walk to the only batter he'd face in the inning. He gave way to Zac Person, who walked a batter after inducing a pop fly by the first batter he faced.
With two on and one out, Arkansas 2B Brian Anderson lifted a two-run double to deep right-center field to cut the LSU lead to 5-3 at the time.
Broussard relieved Person after that, and he too issued a walk, the Razorbacks' third of the inning. But he retired the next two in order to end the inning and preserve the lead.
He struck out two in the ninth and also caught a hard liner back to the mound to cap off his eighth save in eight opportunities.
"Nola battled his butt off tonight for us," Broussard said. "He gave us everything he had, and you want to always get that kid a win when he pitches that way."
Broussard didn't want to let another special outing from Nola go to waste. The junior righty topped himself once again, striking out a career-high 13 on Friday. He struck out seven of the first 10 batters he faced, and didn't surrender a hit until the fourth inning.
Dating back to last week's start against Missisippi State, opposing hitters are just 1-for-9 with eight strikeouts against Nola with runners in scoring position.
"Everything was working pretty well," Nola said. "I definitely was feeling good, my arm was feeling good. I found that two-strike pitch and I felt really confident in that."
The only blemish on the night came on a solo homer to open the fifth inning. But Nola responded and retired the next three in order to end that inning, then stranded runners in scoring position in both the sixth and seventh innings.
The only other run registered against him came from that leadoff walk in the eighth.
"That's why I talk about him raising his game to another level when he needs to the most," Mainieri said. "That's what he does. It's no accident. He makes big pitch after big pitch."
Nola was spotted an early lead as LSU jumped ahead with a two-run first inning. Sean McMullen and Mark Laird each reached base without a hit to start the frame, and Alex Bregman came through with a two-run single up the middle.
The Tigers tacked on two more in the third with a home run to right field by McMullen, his fourth of the season. LSU would add an insurance run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Kramer Robertson.
"When you get that early lead with Aaron Nola on the mound, you're in good shape," Bregman said. "He was the Aaron Nola that Aaron Nola is…You're witnessing greatness."
Neither team will have much time to dwell on this result though. They'll be back in action Saturday at noon for Game 2 of the series. Jared Poché will take the mound for LSU against Arkansas ace Jalen Beeks.
"We had to do what it took to win tonight," Mainieri said. "Hopefully it won't tax us too much as we get ready to play tomorrow."