By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
By his own nature Jared Poche’ is a grinder. Without overpowering stuff, his aim is to be steady on the mound, not dominant. As prolific of a winner as he’s been at LSU, clean innings are typically few and far between. Even when the lefty is effective, it rarely looks easy for him.
It did Saturday.
The senior began his final season with a sterling seven-inning no-hitter of visiting Army at Alex Box Stadium. LSU (2-0) broke a scoreless tie with three runs in the fifth inning to finish off a double-header sweep of Army, 6-0, on Saturday evening.
“It was a special day,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri added. “I asked him out there on the mound when I hugged him, ‘Was it worth coming back to experience that today?’ And he said ‘Absolutely.’”
At the end of an emotional afternoon at the Box, a jubilant celebration formed around Poche’ in front of the mound as third baseman Josh Smith fired across the diamond to fellow true freshman Jake Slaughter for the final out.
It’s the sixth no-hitter in LSU history, the first since 1979 and the fifth seven-inning no-no of the bunch. Coincidentally, the victory also makes an even 2,500 in program history.
Who could’ve seen such an improbably event coming? Poche’s dad, apparently.
“I still can’t believe it happened,” Poche’ said. “The crazy thing is my dad said at Walk-On’s yesterday that ‘You’re going to throw a no-hitter.’ I asked him why he’d say that and why he’d put that on me. I expected to get hit all around the ball park today. Next thing you know it happens.”
Poche’ appeared fully in command from the start. The lefty struck out four of the first five batters he faced. Those were his only strikeouts of the evening, and from that point on, his defense played a co-starring role in his historic triumph.
Army’s lone baserunner against Poche’ came via an error charged to Greg Deichmann in right field that put a man on second base to begin the fourth inning. Kramer Robertson says it was at that moment the zero on the scoreboard registered in his mind, and from that moment on he was counting down outs.
Robertson took it upon himself to keep Poche’s bid alive. He turned in back-to-back web gems — one from shallow left field, the other deep in the hole on a ball that got under Smith’s glove — to help extinguish the threat.
“I thought Kramer put on a clinic,” Mainieri said. “That was as well as we’ve ever seen Alex Bregman or Austin Nola or D.J. LeMahieu play shortstop at Alex Box Stadium. And I thought the kid at first base made some real important digs out of the dirt.”
Nobody talks about a no-hitter when it’s happening. It’s among the most hallowed of baseball’s many unwritten rules.
Robertson admits he walked up and down the dugout whispering to the other seven defenders that it was their duty to do anything they could — dive for any ball that was potentially in reach — to keep that thing that they weren’t talking about alive.
A corollary to said rule is that nobody goes within spitting distance of the man of the hour.
“It was probably in the fifth inning that I noticed nobody in our dugout wanted to talk to me,” Poche’ said, moments before receiving a shaving cream pie from Robertson. “It was awkward. I like to talk to people during the game. Honestly I was thinking about it, but I just tried to fill up the zone and let the defense work.”
Some found it easier to stay in the moment than others. Slaughter, who recorded the putout that sealed it, didn’t realize what transpired until that moment. It wasn’t until the rest of the team mobbed Poche’ that he realized it wasn’t just another victory.
The result was far from in doubt in the middle part of the game. Poche’ and Army southpaw Ty Giovinco had matched each other zero for zero through four and a half innings. That’s when the LSU bats came to life.
Bryce Adams began the rally with a rising double that careened off the wall in left field. Catcher Mike Papierski followed with a single to put runners on the corners, and Smith broke the scoreless draw with a sacrifice fly to deep center field.
That’d be all Poche’ needed, but LSU wasn’t done. With two men on and two outs, Robertson went the other way for a two-run triple into the right field corner. He then unleashed a fiery roar and a fist pump upon sliding into third base.
“When a guy is pitching as well as Poche’, it kind of gives you a little extra motivation to lock in and make those plays,” Robertson said. “I knew what was going on. That seventh inning, those last three outs, I can say that was as nervous as I’ve ever been at LSU. I wanted him to get it so bad.”
LSU scored three more times in the sixth. Slaughter began the rally with a single and Beau Jordan followed with a double to right field. Slaughter came home on a wild pitch and Smith and Cole Freeman followed with RBI singles to provide additional breathing room.
At that point, everyone in the building — well, besides Slaughter, apparently — knew what was going on. The only question was whether or not Poche’ would be able to finish it. The mostly packed crowd rose as one when Poche’ jogged back out for the bottom of the seventh.
Mainieri had been down this road before, and much to his relief, Poche’ worked economically enough stay in the game. The coach once hooked Aaron Nola seven hitless innings into a regulation game, and he would’ve done the same to Poche’ had he gone past his 80-85 pitch count.
Mainieri decided before the inning he would pull Poche’ if he didn’t retire the side in order. Poche’ did, and with it he secures his own piece of LSU history. The game’s final out came on pitch No. 79.
“It’s a special moment anytime anybody does it, it doesn’t matter how many innings you play,” Deichmann said. “For Poche’ to do it in the first start of his senior season, that’s huge for him. I’m just glad I got to be a part of it.”
LSU will be back in action Sunday against Air Force. First pitch is scheduled for 1p.m. and the Tigers will start freshman right-hander Eric Walker.