By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OMAHA, Neb. — LSU will live on to see another day at the College World Series — and get another shot at Oregon State.
The Tigers exploded for five runs in the second inning and held off Florida State, 7-4, to stave off elimination at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha on Wednesday night.
Jared Poche’ did the rest, going eight-plus innings against a patient, potent lineup to save LSU’s season in historic fashion. He quieted the high-scoring Seminoles to four runs (three earned) on seven hits while striking out four.
“Poche’ was the man tonight,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He put the team on his shoulders and carried us to the promise land … There was a lot riding on this game tonight, and Poche’ was a cool customer and just went out there and pitched as well as I’ve ever seen him pitch.”
Career win No. 39 for Poche’ breaks a tie with Scott Schultz and sets him alone atop the list of the program’s winningest pitchers.
Given the stakes, a case can he made it was his most clutch outing in a decorated career full of them.
“This couldn’t happen to a better person,” LSU catcher Mike Papierski said. “He just went out there and did what he always does. He competed.”
LSU moves into college baseball’s version of the Final Four with the victory, the furthest the Tigers have advanced into the tournament since winning it all back in 2009.
Of course the climb only gets more difficult from here.
After a day off to regroup, LSU will take on Oregon State Friday at 2 p.m. needing to beat the Beavers twice to advance to the College World Series Finals.
That’s what made Poche’s lengthy outing all the more important. It saved the bullpen, which struggled Monday, for the monumental task ahead.
That, however, is a concern for Thursday. For now, LSU has exorcised the bad taste left in its mouth from a 13-1 drubbing at the hands of the Beavers on Monday night.
The key: LSU jumped out to the early lead that’d eluded them through two games at the College World Series.
Greg Deichmann led off the second with a hustle double and successive sharp singles from Zach Watson and Josh Smith brought him home. The Tigers were rolling from there. Beau Jordan squeezed another run home and Mike Papierski reached on an error.
That brought up Jake Slaughter, inserted into the lineup after sitting the first two games in Omaha. The freshman jumped on a hanging curveball and belted a three-run home run, his third of the season and first since March 15, to cap a five-run frame.
The second inning was the ninth five-run frame in LSU history at the College World Series and first since 2009.
Florida State answered back immediately with a blast of its own, but it was of the solo variety. Drew Mendoza, one of two lefties in the Seminole lineup, rode the howling wind for an opposite-field homer off Poche’.
Aided by his defense — Smith in particular — Poche’ managed to tamp down Florida State rallies before damage could be done. Smith started a 5-4-3 double play in the third and a 5-4 double play after the Seminoles opened up the fifth with back-to-back sharp singles.
“That was the goal coming in, to just pound the zone early and often,” Poche’ said. “For me, the biggest thing was my fastball command, which was probably the best it’s been all season.”
An error charged to Cole Freeman and double down the third base line presented Florida State with a golden opportunity to climb back into the game in the sixth. The spacious ballpark held a long sac fly to left and Poche’ induced a grounder to short to minimize the damage at one run.
Smelling the finish line, Poche’ looked his sharpest in the later stages of the game. He retired seven in a row after the Jackson Lueck double in the sixth. A two-out single broke the streak in the eighth, but a rangy play by Freeman ended the inning one batter later.
Kramer Robertson, sporting freshly bleached-blonde hair, got the 0-for-Omaha off his bat with a sharp single to right-center field in the top of the ninth. He was hitless in 12 frustrating at-bats to that point.
The gold-haired shortstop then stole second base, moved to third on a Freeman sacrifice bunt and scored on a grounder to first from Antoine Duplantis. A good throw would’ve gotten him, but it came in high and Robertson slid under the tag to provide an insurance run. Watson made the decision to stick with Poche’ even easier, drilling a two-out RBI double to plate Duplantis.
However, Florida State had other ideas. Quincy Nieporte and Cal Raliegh crushed back-to-back homers off Poche’ to begin the ninth, denying his bid for a complete game.
That forced LSU to go to Zack “Wild Thing” Hess, sporting the iconic Rick Vaughn haircut.
Hess froze the first batter he faced with a wicked curve and blew a 97 mph heater by the next one. After a walk, he picked up another called strike three to close out the save.
“I think he had 100 tonight, too,” Poche’ said. “So, dude, you see 84 from the left side, next thing he comes in 97 from the right side. It’s a hard speed for the hitters to get.”
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