In a word, wow.
Game 1 of the Super Regionals against Oklahoma lived up to every last bit of the pre-game hype, and was likely the best game played in the new Alex Box. Finally, the new stadium has a game to put in the hype montage between innings.
Jonathan Gray was terrific. He made only one mistake all night, and it ended up costing him the game, but he was brilliant throughout the night, keeping LSU hitters off balance and rarely getting into even the slightest bit of trouble. Skip Bertman compared his stuff to Ben McDonald's, which is about as high as praise gets around these parts.
And for as great as Gray was, Nola was better. Nola didn't even make that one mistake, and he just kept mowing down Oklahoma hitters until finally the bats gave him a slight lead in the eighth. There was a brief thought that maybe Chris Cotton would come in to close the game, but let's be honest, this was Nola's masterpiece. Rembrandt didn't ask Vermeer to put the finishing touches on his paintings. Cotton is great, and he would have his moment, but Friday night was Aaron Nola's night.
102 pitches. 9 innings. 6 strikeouts. 2 hits. 0 walks.
Just look at that line and marvel. Last year, players seem to shrink from the spotlight. On Friday, everyone wanted to be in the pressure situation and be the hero. No one set that tone more than Aaron Nola, who had his national coming out party, and just out-dueled the consensus Best Pitcher in the Country. The King is dead, long live the King.
If Aaron Nola doesn't do his best Ben McDonald impression, this is an entirely different series. Winning Game One is so crucial in a Super Regional, and once he got LSU the first game, the series was pretty much in the bag. Not that Game Two was quite the cakewalk the final score made it look like, but there was just no way LSU was losing two straight games, at home, to the Sooners. Game One didn't make a Sooner upset impossible, but it made it extraordinarily unlikely.
The guy who provided that game winning run in Game One was a guy who has never seemed to quite put all of his immense talent together, JaCoby Jones. Jones came in nearly as hyped as Bregman did this year, and he's never been a bad player, but he's never quite been a star. The tools have always been there, but the production just seemed to lag behind for some reason. Jones has always just been so tantalizingly short of true greatness.
Well, this weekend his production finally caught up to his talent. Jones' triple in the eighth inning on Friday was the first LSU baserunner to get to second base, much less third. Once Moore hit the ball to the outfield, Nola had all of the cushion he needed (of course, Moore's fly ball found green and he would later score as well, but LSU still takes a 1-0 lead even if the ball was two feet to the right and in the right fielder's glove).
That triple seemed to flip Jones' switch to Awesome. Jones would follow up his hero performance on Friday by almost single-handedly beating Oklahoma on Saturday. He went 4 for 4 with a home run and a double, driving in two runs and scoring three times. He was so dominant that Oklahoma eventually intentionally walked him to load the bases with two outs. I'm surprised he didn't reach over the plate and smack one of the balls to the wall, that's how locked in he was. Heck, he even added four putouts and 2 assists to his totals. JaCoby Jones' performance was a tour de force, and such a welcome sight for a guy who just never could quite put it all together.
Oklahoma is a really good team, and they even played well this series until the wheels came off in the ninth inning of Game Two. LSU was just better. And when this team is playing to the peak of its abilities, like it was this weekend, it's hard to see how anyone can beat this team.