By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
HOUSTON — Jared Poche’ just keeps hanging zeroes up on the scoreboard — only this time a leadoff double took the suspense out of things.
“That’s been all the talk and everything,” Poche’ said of his successive no-hit bids. “Part of me was glad that happened early.”
“We’re like Thank God that’s over,” Greg Deichmann joked. “Now he can just go out and pitch.’”
Boy, did he ever.
The senior left-hander twirled seven shutout innings of three-hit ball to run his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 22 and pick up his third victory in as many starts. He’s allowed all of four hits and two walks while striking out 15 during that span.
Consecutive two-out RBI singles from Cole Freeman and Antoine Duplantis broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning and Poche’ did the rest. LSU (9-2) bounced back from Friday’s loss to take down previously-unbeaten Baylor (10-1), 4-0, at Minute Maid Park on Saturday afternoon.
Alex Lange, his rotation-mate, lasted all of five outs in a 9-6 loss to TCU the night before. The veteran lefty went out to make sure that defeat didn’t turn into a streak and became the sixth pitcher in program history to win 30 career games in the process.
As far as his own streak, the longest string of scoreless inning on record for an LSU pitcher was Ben McDonald at 44.2 consecutive zeroes in 1989. Greg Smith fired 28.2 straight in 2005, a mark Poche’ could match against Wichita State next weekend.
You’ll see a significantly harrier man on the mound if Poche’ makes a serious run at McDonald’s astounding mark. Paul Mainieri has instructed his grizzled — and even a bit grizzly — vet to not shave until he allows a run, and he’s already got a decent layer of peach fuzz accumulated.
“My fastball command has been outstanding,” Poche’ said, himself not entirely sure how to explain his dominant streak. “That’s really all I can say about it. My stuff hasn’t been great, but fastball command and keeping guys off balance is what’s been working for me.”
Saturday had all the makings of a great pitcher’s duel early on. Both Poche’ and Baylor right-hander Montana Parsons cruised through the first four innings having allowed just two hits apiece.
Bears leadoff hitter Steven McLean had both, including the double to begin the game, which agave him him twice as many hits against the white-hot southpaw as the rest of college baseball combined this season.
LSU finally broke through in the fifth after Jake Slaughter and Jordan Romero led off the frame with back-to-back singles. After a pair of outs, Freeman’s two-strike line drive into center field brought Slaughter home. Duplantis followed with a run-scoring single through the right side.
The Tigers tacked on two more in the sixth. Deichmann led off the inning with his fifth home run of the season, an absolute laser that landed about 15 rows deep in the right-field grandstands. LSU scored again on an error that allowed Romero to score his second run of the game.
In the meantime Poche’ put the game on cruise control, seemingly for the third time in as many weeks. He faced the minimum in five of seven innings and finished with more strikeouts (5) than baserunners allowed (3).
What has taken the former grinder to such a dominant form? His coach isn’t entirely sure, but it starts with a blend of pinpoint command and veteran poise.
“I wish I could tell you the answer to that question, but I don’t have one,” Mainieri said. “I’ll tell you, he’s just been crafty as can be out there. There’s just something about seniors. They’ve seen it all. They never lose that confidence.”
The lefty got some help from his shortstop to record his final out. Poche’ induced a foul popup down the third base line and Kramer Robertson leaped over Josh Smith, who appeared to have overrun the ball, and made the catch before landing in the first row of the stands.
“I was just glad he was ok,” Mainieri said. “It kind of reminded me of Derek Jeter going after that ball.”
Robertson, though hitless at the plate this weekend, always has a flair for the dramatic. He remembered making a similar play, albeit while playing second base, in his first career start. LSU’s starting pitcher that day was none other than Jared Poche’.
Dating back to his seven-inning no-hitter on opening day, LSU’s defense has made a habit of playing great behind Poche’. It’s not a coincidence, either.
“He works fast, which is the best thing for a defender,” Robertson said. “You love it when your pitcher works fast and fills up the zone because you never get lulled to sleep out there. You’re always ready for the ball.”
Caleb Gilbert came on to work scoreless eighth and ninth innings to close out the game. LSU will complete its Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic stint on Sunday morning against Texas Tech. First pitch is set for at 10 a.m.