By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Jared Poche’ has never heard the name Johnny Vander Meer, but that didn’t stop him from flirting with duplicating one of baseball’s most hallowed achievements.
LSU hadn’t had a no-hitter since 1979 before last Saturday. Poche’ came within three outs of pitching his second in a week’s time and doing the impossible: repeating.
Poche’ followed up his seven-inning no-hitter with eight brilliantly efficient innings of no-hit ball before an infield single ended his bid in the ninth inning. LSU (6-1) scored 11 times in the first three innings in a 14-0 evisceration of Maryland (1-4) at Alex Box Stadium on Saturday afternoon to clinch the weekend series.
“I don’t really know how to explain it,” Poche’ said. “I guess I’m just going out there and executing. Obviously I have a lot of luck on my side right now, and hopefully I can continue to have that.”
LSU pounded out 18 hits while Poche’ continued to yield none. It turns out that’s a pretty solid recipe for winning a baseball game.
Still, there’s never been more tension in the later innings of a game that had long since gotten out of hand.
The crowd roared as Zach Watson chased down a deep drive to center field to end the seventh inning. It was so silent in the eighth that one could hear Poche’ curse when he issued a four-pitch walk. Then, another eruption as he notched back-to-back strikeouts to send the game into the ninth. And another when Poche’ came up to bat in the top of the ninth under strict orders to not swing.
Paul Mainieri had considered hooking after the seventh inning because of the game’s lopsided nature, but said Alan Dunn convinced him to let Poche’ keep going.
“I asked him if he was trying to make me the most unpopular man in Baton Rouge,” Mainieri joked. “Going into the game we planned on him going 100 pitches, and he ended at 98. It would’ve been an amazing thing to witness. It’s funny, doing a radio interview last night I threw out the name Johnny Vander Meer … And my gosh, he almost did it.”
“That was the most intense ninth inning of a 14-0 game ever,” freshman first baseman Jake Slaughter laughed.
However, the result of the game itself itself had long since been determined.
LSU loaded the bases with nobody out in the first inning and managed to score twice. Greg Deichmann plated Cole Freeman, who got hit by a pitch to lead off the game, with the first of two sacrifice flies to left field. Slaughter followed with an RBI single, extending his career-length hitting streak to seven games.
The Tigers left the bases loaded in that inning but came back with two more runs in the second. Brennan Breaux led off with a walk and scored on a throwing error after Antoine Duplantis singled for the second time in as many at-bats. Deichmann then brought him home with another fly ball to left.
LSU then batted around and scored seven times in the third inning. The first six Tigers to bat in the inning got hits, and LSU tied a program record with three triples in the frame.
Freshman Rankin Woley, who got the start at designated hitter in place of Bryce Adams, split the gap in right-center field for an RBI triple. He then scored on Mike Papierski’s rope down the left-field line, though the catcher got thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double.
Breaux restarted the rally with a triple of his own and came home on Freeman’s RBI single. Duplantis followed with an RBI triple — his third hit in as many at-bats — and after a Robertson walk, Deichmann collected his third RBI with a single. Slaughter capped the rally with a two-run double.
“I thought we swung the bats extremely well,” Mainieri said.
Mainieri began to substitute in mass not long after that, emptying his bench and giving most of his veteran players the rest of the afternoon off. Meanwhile, Poche’ continued his pursuit of history with an entirely new-look defense playing behind him.
Trailing big, Maryland appeared to have no problem keeping the southpaw’s bid alive. Poche’ needed just seven, nine and eight pitches respectively to work through the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. He locked in after hitting a batter in the third and issuing a walk in the fourth.
Poche’ left to a standing ovation after Zach Jancarski’s single up the middle. Alex Lange, his rotation mate of three years, greeted him with a bear hug outside the dugout. He’d begun the season with 15 hitless innings and has yet to allow a run. Poche’ walked two, hit a batter and struck out six along the way of his brush with history.
“That’s probably one of the top three standing ovations I’ve ever gotten from this crowd,” Poche’ said. “It’s special every time. It’s hard not to crack a smile. It’s indescribable and I’m hopefully looking forward to a few more of those this year.”
LSU will go for the sweep Sunday at 11 a.m. Freshman Eric Walker will make the start.