LSU pitcher Aaron Nola, left, and teammate Mason Katz celebrate as catcher Ty Ross watches after the Tigers beat Oklahoma 2-0 Friday in the opener of the super regional in Baton Rouge. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Sunday, June 09, 2013 7:57 PM
BATON ROUGE — Advantage, Tigers.
Near perfection, Aaron Nola.
And it came just when anything less might not have been enough for LSU.
Nola pitched arguably his best game as a Tiger to outduel Oklahoma ace Jonathan Gray and allow LSU time to finally solve the likely future major leaguer to beat Oklahoma 2-0 in the opener of the super regional Friday night.
“Wow,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Anybody that hasn’t been to Alex Box Stadium for a game like this needs to put it on their bucket list. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced this with the crowd and the atmosphere.”
“Shame on me for as a fan enjoying such a quality baseball game, the atmosphere,” Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said. “We lost to a great program and great pitcher. One heck of a college baseball game and I’m glad the country got to see it.”
LSU is one victory from its first College World Series appearance since winning the 2009 national championship, with two chances to get it beginning with today’s 6 p.m. game on ESPN2.
The two teams will have a hard act to follow.
“It was everything everybody expected,” Mainieri said. “As great of a pitching duel as you’ll ever see.”
Most of the buildup was for Oklahoma’s Gray, the 100-mph flamethrower who was the third overall pick Thursday in the major league draft.
“People might forget we had a pretty good pitcher as well,” Mainieri said. “I wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the world. He was fantastic tonight, but we’ve seen this before. He pitched a typical game for him.”
Maybe a little better than that.
Nola threw a two-hit shutout while facing 29 Sooners — two over the limit — on 102 pitches.
But a game that was over in 2 hours, 18 minutes looked as if it might last all night with zeros until LSU got to Gray in the bottom of the eighth.
Gray was virtually unhittable for seven innings — the Tigers had three polite singles, but nothing close to a runner in scoring position.
“It seemed like he never fell behind a hitter,” Mainieri said. “He looks pretty ready for the big leagues to me.”
But JaCoby Jones slammed a one-out triple on an 0-2 pitch in the eighth and the Tigers responded with back-to-back RBI hits to cash in big on their lone scoring opportunity.
Tyler Moore came off the bench for a pinch-hit double to score Jones with the game’s first run and LSU got some insurance when freshman Mark Laird singled in pinch-runner Jared Foster.
Jones said he was going to sit on Gray’s wicked slider, but he watched two strikes, and quickly fell behind 0-2.
“I was disappointed in myself,” Jones said. “So then I was just trying to get on base.”
He mashed a liner deep in the right-center gap that got just over the glove of Sooners center fielder Max White.
“When I saw it get past his glove I knew it was a triple with JaCoby’s speed,” said Mainieri, who didn’t hesitate to pinch-hit Tyler Moore.
“(Moore) has had a knack for getting big hits for us his whole career,” Mainieri said. “He’s watching the whole game, not as a fan, he’s studying the pitcher knowing that we may call on him.”
“Ever since you’re a little kid, those are the moments you dream of,” Moore said. “You dream of getting the big hit to win the game.
“I had eight innings to watch him (Gray).”
Moore had time to think about it when Golloway, who had already decided the eighth would be Gray’s last inning, made a mound visit to encourage his ace.
“It was real simple,” Golloway said. “It was ‘Let’s not give them anything to hit, let’s go for the strikeout, expand the zone if we can a little bit.’ He made a great first pitch and just lost the second pitch.
“You tip your hat sometimes. They got the hit when they needed to.”
Moore said he was trying to get a fly ball to chase home Jones, but with the OU outfield forced to play in, his line drive went to the wall for a double.
Laird, who had three of LSU’s six hits, followed an out later with an RBI single.
It was overkill.
LSU had closer Chris Cotton soft-tossing in the bullpen, but Nola finished the game by putting the Sooners down in order for the seventh time in nine innings.
“Our whole team knew it was going to be a pitching duel,” Nola said. “We just needed that clutch hit.”
Oklahoma’s best scoring chance came in the fifth inning.
Nola no-hit the Sooners in four innings and faced the minimum when he picked off Matt Oberste shortly after hitting him with a pitch.
But Oberste led off the fifth with a double and was sacrificed to third with one out.
“I’ll probably lay in bed tonight wishing I’d squeeze bunted,” Golloway said.
Instead, Nola struck out Anthony Hermelyn and ended the inning with a ground out on a close play at first.
“He has that ability to kick up a notch when he knows the game is on the line,” Mainieri said.
Now the bottom line is one more win to get to Omaha.