By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Jared Poche’s astounding scoreless innings streak — and the burgeoning mustache that’s been permitted to grow along with it — will live to see Southeastern Conference play.
Poche’ tied Wichita State in knots for seven innings of four-hit shutout ball, running his shutout streak to 29 consecutive innings in the process. He passed Greg Smith for the second-longest such streak in program history and stands 15.2 innings behind Ben McDonald’s record of 44.2.
“Poche’ did what he does,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It looks like I’m going to have to put up with that stupid mustache for another week.”
Zach Watson, Mike Papierski and Greg Deichmann each homered to lead a 17-hit barrage and LSU bludgeoned Wichita State 12-5 to secure a weekend series victory at Alex Box Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The true freshman Watson made the most of his opportunity to start in center field as Paul Mainieri experiments with a new-look outfield. Watson went 3-for-4 and drove in the first four runs of his career while continuing to prove himself plenty capable of patrolling center field. The coach said the rookie had earned another start in center field Sunday.
“We got a real spark today from Zach Watson,” Mainieri said. “That’s called taking advantage of your opportunities right there.”
Mainieri also stuck with the re-ordered top of the lineup he debuted Friday, and it paid off.
Kramer Robertson, Cole Freeman and Antoine Duplantis led off the third inning with consecutive singles to load the bases. Jake Slaughter got the Tigers on the board with a sacrifice fly to deep left-center field. Watson followed with a two-out RBI single to left.
Poche’ faced the minimum through three innings, which has almost become routine for him at this point. The lefty ran into some trouble in the fourth, allowing back to back singles, but got a fly out to center and froze Trey Vickers with a fastball on the outside corner to escape the jam. Poche’ struck out three on the afternoon and didn’t issue a walk.
How’d he right himself and work out of the jam. A mound visit from his trusty catcher and some words of encouragement may have done the trick.
“He was struggling a bit when I went out there, and I just told him the mustache looks great out there,” Mike Papierski said. “He laughed and we got out of the inning.”
An error opened the flood gates to for LSU to begin pouring it on in the fifth. Slaughter picked up his second RBI of the afternoon with a sharp single to right field and Watson followed with his towering three-run blast that rode the win and carried the left-field grandstands entirely.
Papierski tacked on another run with a solo home run to right in the sixth, his second of the year and first batting left-handed since he resumed switch hitting. Robertson then doubled to left and scored on an RBI single by Freeman.
Two batters later Deichmann drove a two-run home run to left, his seventh of the season and first of the opposite field variety. He’s now driven in 23 runs in 15 games.
Poche’ finished up seven strong innings with some defensive help from his second baseman. Freeman raced after a looping line drive to right field and made a ridiculous full-extension leaping grab. Then he charged a slow roller and threw across his body for the final out of the inning.
The lefty professed afterward that he didn’t have anywhere near his best stuff, despite what looks like another cruise-control gem in the box score, and felt his seven innings were a battled compared to his first three victories.
“Today was a grind,” Poche’ said. “I didn’t really have much. Fastball command was wavering early on and I didn’t really have a put-away pitch all game. I gutted it out and the defense played well behind me.”
LSU piled on two more runs in the seventh. Robertson plated Slaughter with a two-out single and Beau Jordan came off the bench with a pinch hit RBI single.
The Tiger bullpen gave up the shutout in the ninth inning for the second time in as many days. Hunter Kiel loaded the bases and walked in a pair of runs before being lifted for Collin Strall. Kiel was charged with five earned runs and didn’t record an out.
LSU will go for the sweep Sunday with freshman Eric Walker on the mound. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m.