Quick thoughts from Alex Box Stadium, where No. 7 LSU (44-16) downed Louisiana-Monroe (31-29) to advance into the winner's bracket of the Baton Rouge regional of the NCAA Division I NCAA Baseball Championship.
Overview: Much like Friday afternoon's early game between Oregon State and Belmont, the Tigers and Warhawks settled in to quite an epic pitching duel to start the regional nightcap.
For roughly seven innings, LSU's Aaron Nola (7-4) and ULM's Randy Zeigler (5-7) pitched absolute gems on the way to a tense 1-1 tie. With a strong wind blowing in from right field and both pitchers baffling the opposing lineups, the game had a just four combined hits heading into the deep innings.
How the starters got those results differed widely. Nola, only a freshman, set a career high for strikeouts in his postseason debut. The Baton Rouge native went an impressive eight innings and allowed just four hits while striking out 10. On the rare occasion he did get into a jam, such as his rough seventh inning that saw the Warhawks load the bases with one out, he delivered to force a double play and preserve a 1-1 tie.
Zeigler managed only three strikeouts on the night, but he confounded the LSU hitters. Zeigler limited LSU to a meager two hits through six innings, until the Tigers figured him out in an explosive seventh inning.
The only offense that worked its way past the pair of aces came in the third inning. ULM struck in the top half of the frame when Les Aulds singled off Nola to score Taylor Abdalla from second base.
LSU answered in its at-bat when Arby Fields reached base on a fielder's choice bunt. The Tigers' center fielder advanced all the way to third on an errant pickoff from Zeigler, and Austin Nola was able to bring him home with a sacrifice fly.
Turning point: The duel ended in that seventh frame thanks to a strong effort from the bottom of the LSU lineup. With LSU's big hitters struggling, the offense came from the six, seven and eight spots in the lineup. Ty Ross and Alex Edward started things out with a pair of base hits to put runners on second and third with no outs. From there, Tyler Hanover delivered a third-straight single to score two runs and take a 3-1 lead.
Zeigler was yanked after the three-hit rally, but reliever Wil Browning was unable to stem the tide. He surrendered a double to Austin Nola, which allowed Hanover to score from second for a 4-1 lead.
Key player: You wouldn't know it was Nola's first-ever postseason start. The freshman was sterling in his bid to out-duel Zeigler. In both of his rough patches, he was able to rebound and hold the Warhawks back. And obviously his 10 strikeouts speak for themselves.
Key stat: After we saw Oregon State and Belmont combine for nine hits and three runs, LSU and ULM combined for just 10 hits and five runs. The pitching at this Baton Rouge regional is pretty impressive after one day.
Up next: LSU moves into the winner's bracket, where the Tigers will face Oregon State in a Saturday night matchup. ULM gets Belmont in the loser's bracket, with the loser getting eliminated from the postseason.