By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Michael Papierski had grown tired of life on the interstate.
Hitting a hard-luck .190 heading into Friday night’s series-opener against Fordham, the sophomore catcher worked with hitting coach Andy Cannizaro in the cages to make some mechanical adjustments to his swing.
The changes paid off in a loud way.
Papierski’s mammoth three-run blast broke a scoreless tie in the fourth and Jared Poche’ — with help from his new-look infield — scattered eight hits over seven scoreless innings to earn the victory as LSU (7-2) cruised past Fordham (3-5), 12-1, in matter-of-fact fashion on a gorgeous night at Alex Box Stadium.
“I was real happy for Mike,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He’s such a hard worker and Andy did a lot of good work with Mike the last couple of days. He took it into the game. Mike works real hard, and just to see him turn on a ball like that and hit it as hard as he did is just a great feeling.”
Contrary to the final score, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Poche’ (2-0). The Rams were hacking early and often against the veteran southpaw, and the result was a low pitch count — he needed just 86 to finish seven frames — but a steady stream of baserunners.
Fordham put at least one man on base in every inning but the fourth but couldn’t push a run across. Working into and out of trouble, Rams batters were just 2-of-10 against Poche’ with men on base and stranded nine.
Poche’ froze No. 3 hitter Matthew Kozuch with a 3-2 curveball to strand the bases loaded in his final inning of work. He fanned five and walked two to lower his season ERA to 0.92.
“That’s Jared’s m.o. it seems every game,” Mainieri said. “He doesn’t give you a lot of clean innings 1-2-3, but he always finds a way to wiggle out of it. He never gives up. He just keeps competing and ultimately he did that again tonight.
“Just execute pitches,” Poche’ said of bearing down with men on. “Not try to overthrow, which I’ve definitely got in trouble doing in the past. Wanted to locate better instead of trying to overpower them and let the defense work behind me.”
The Tigers and Rams were locked in a scoreless pitching duel heading into the bottom of the fourth inning.
Right fielder Antoine Duplantis (1-for-3, BB) led things off with a single back up the middle to extend his hitting streak to nine games. Two batters later LSU put on the hit-and-run and Bryce Jordan (2-for-3, 2 BB) chopped a single to left to put men on the corners.
That set the stage for Papierski (2-for-3), who sat dead red on a 2-0 fastball and belted it deep into the right field grandstands. According to TrackMan, the blast left the bat at 100.7 mph and traveled an estimated 414 feet.
“Me and Andy worked in the cages yesterday, and we just fixed a couple things with my hands and where they started,” Papierski said. “Up 2-0 (in the count), I’m trying to get my pitch, something down, and he threw a fastball right where where I wanted it.”
Mainieri has preached the importance of shutdown innings after scoring, and Poche’ kept the Rams off the board in the ensuing fifth with help from his defense. After two quick outs, Joseph Runco broke Poche’s steak of eight in a row retired with a ringing double off the wall in left field.
Ryan McNally followed with a single ticketed for left field, but Kramer Robertson made a full extension dive in shallow left, popped up and fired to Papierski who gathered the throw and applied the tag at home plate.
After making an error earlier, the web gem provided a testament to the increased mental toughness Robertson and Mainieri contend equip the junior to potentially handle being the everyday shortstop moving forward.
“Maturation wise, I think it shows a lot of maturity to come back after that and make every play and have some good at-bats for us,” Robertson said. “That’s what you need in a shortstop. You’ve got to have a short memory and erase the mistakes you make because there’s always going to be a bigger play later in the game.”
Poche’ got more help from his new-look infield in the sixth. With one out and a man on first, Justin Bardwell sent a hard grounder back up the middle. Freeman laid out to make the stop and made a no-look flip to Robertson to get the force.
LSU sent nine men to the plate and broke the game open with a five-run fifth. Bryce Jordan walked to begin the frame and Papierski followed with a sharp single to right to put men on the corners.
Two batters later, Chris Reid — inserted for O’Neal Lochridge at third base in the fifth — lined a single to left and collected his first collegiate RBI. Robertson drew a bases loaded walk to make it 6-0, and a dropped Duplantis fly ball in right cleared the bases and stretched the advantage to 9-0.
Two more runs came home on a collection of errors and wild pitches in the seventh and Jordan Romero launched a pinch-hit solo shot off the back wall of the left field grandstands in the eighth.
LSU will be back in action Saturday with a split-admission double-header slated to start at 2 p.m. with the nightcap beginning no earlier than 6:30. John Valek (2-0) will pitch game one with Alex Lange set to start the series finale.
– Mainieri pulled Lochridge in favor of Reid after scoring on a wild pitch in the Tigers’ four-run fourth innings. Mainieri said after the game that Lochridge’s legs were bothering him and bit but added he should be ready to play Saturday.