By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
An opportunistic rally, back-to-back long balls and another strong dose of vintage Jared Poche’ got LSU back to winning ways on Friday night.
The seniors led the way, but the spark came from a rookie.
Poche’ battled his way in and out of trouble to post seven innings of two-run ball and Kramer Robertson went 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBI to bust out of an unsightly 1-for-25 slump. LSU pounded out 13 hits and defeated Texas A&M 7-4 at Alex Box Stadium to even up the weekend series at one game apiece.
“That was fun,” Robertson said. “It was finally like we had fun playing baseball and enjoyed it regardless of the score. The vibe today, the attitude today, you could tell early before batting practice that everything felt different. It was positive. Everyone was upbeat. I just had a feeling going into the game that it was going to be a good game, and my gut feeling was right.”
Though it hardly resembled the effortless cruise-control gems Poche’ twirled during his lengthy shutout streak, the senior again provided exactly what LSU needed: find a way — any way — to put up enough zeroes to alleviate the pressure on a sputtering lineup that bore the brunt of the blame for LSU having lost four of its last five games.
“I don’t even know how to describe Poche’ after having him for four years,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It was nice that he pitched a no-hitter earlier in the year and had a long scoreless streak or whatever, but tonight was more vintage Poche’. Runners on base every inning … I don’t know if had a clean inning all night. He’s amazing. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody.”
He had exactly one. Poche’ worked around leadoff hits in each of the first three innings, picking up a strikeout in each frame along the way. He got help from his defense in the third, as Josh Smith made a leaping snare on a high chopper to begin an incredible 5-4-3 double play.
The web gem created a bit of momentum and positive energy within a restless stadium, and LSU rode both to break through with its first runs of the series.
“Our crowd reacts to really good defensive plays,” Mainieri said. “It energized the crowd a little bit and then we finally went out there and got some hits.”
Zach Watson began the hit parade with a one-out double down the left field line. Cole Freeman following with a single to right, and Antoine Duplantis slapped a single to left to put LSU on the board. Robertson struck the big blow with a Baltimore chopper that bounded over third base for a two-run double.
Poche’ had to grind to post an all-important shutdown inning after two walks and a single loaded the bases full of Aggies. The lefty got Austin Homan swinging on a curveball in the dirt and popped up Walker Pennington to escape the jam unscathed. He stranded six runners over the first four innings.
LSU increased the advantage after Poche’ stranded another runner in scoring position in the fifth. Duplantis led off with a single to left and stole second base despite a perfectly-called pitchout. Smith then came through with a clutch two-out RBI single to bring him home.
Turns out the Tigers would need it. After an infield single to lead off the seventh, Pennington halved LSU’s lead with a long two-run home run to left field off Poche’. Poche’ then plunked the next batter to bring the tying run to the plate and Mainieri to the mound for a chat.
The coach has long joked that he’s never had a pitcher who is harder to read in terms of when he should come with the hook. Poche’, who admitted he thought his night was over, talked Mainieri into letting him stay in the game this time.
Poche’ promptly retired the next three Aggies to complete seven strong innings. He scattered eight hits and struck out six to earn his sixth victory in seven starts.
“There’s just very few kids that you have such faith in their honesty about how they feel,” Mainieri explained. “I just asked him ‘Do you have anything left? How do you feel?’ And he said ‘I feel good.’ He went out there and got the next three guys. That’s what you call clutch pitching.”
LSU wasted no time getting those runs back. Robertson watched a home run bid hook just foul, appearing in disbelief as he rounded first base and made his way back to the batter’s box. He then crushed an ensuing offering over the left field bleachers for his second home run of the season.
Greg Deichmann followed with his ninth home run of the season, an absolute moonshot that somehow crept into the first row of the bleachers in right. TrakMan recorded the launch angle of the towering blast at an almost unfathomable 46 degrees.
Hunter Newman came to work the eighth inning, his first appearance since March 12, and showed no signs of rust from the back injury that kept him out for two weeks. The senior reliever entered and struck out the side on 14 pitches.
“It’s been a long two weeks just watching them play,” Newman said. “It felt great being back out on the mound.”
Beau Jordan drew a bases-loaded walk to provide an insurance run and Todd Peterson gave up a two-run home run in the ninth inning before closing things out as LSU improved to 19-9 and 5-3 in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers and Aggies have a rubber match set for Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
– Rankin Woley made his first career start at first base as Mainieri sat slumping freshman Jake Slaughter. Woley reached base three times — two hits, one hit by pitch — and played a clean first base. Mainieri praised Woley for providing a “spark” but didn’t tip his hand as to whether Slaughter or Woley would get the nod Saturday.
– Newman revealed that he’d been suffering from a herniated disc, but still doesn’t have any clue what caused the injury.