Tigers wait out the storm to advance into the winner’s bracket of Baton Rouge Regional
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Jared Poche’ had to wait out torrential deluges that precipitated a 6 ½ hour rain delay before taking the mound to begin the Baton Rouge Regional.
Jake Fraley, the only other Tiger in the starting lineup with significant postseason experience, wasted no time breaking out the driver to stake his classmate to an early lead. Fraley’s majestic two-run bomb caromed off the ‘K’ in ‘Diamond Deck’ behind the right-field grandstands.
“That kind of set the tone for the whole night,” Kramer Robertson said. “He’s our veteran. He’s been in this situation before, so to put up ahead right off the bat really loosened everybody up. That’s what great players do.”
Staked to a lead, Poche’ matched a career-high with eight strikeouts over six sterling innings of one-run ball to lead LSU past Utah Valley, 7-1, and into the winner’s bracket on what turned out to be a gorgeous Friday night at Alex Box Stadium.
“You expect that from a guy who’s been here for three years,” Fraley said. “He’s pitched in all those big games. He’s always been put in that situation and he’s succeeded over and over again.”
“You hope your veterans will step up,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I think it’s really important that our veterans took the lead. We don’t have a lot of veterans, but the ones that we do have took the lead today.”
Poche’ looked sharp from the outset, spotting his fastball and generating swings-and-misses with his sharp-breaking curve. He allowed a two-out RBI double to Justin Erlandson that cut the lead to 2-1 in the second, but from that point on the seasoned southpaw dialed in.
After a 1-2-3 third, he pulled an absolute Houdini act to escape a first-and-third, nobody out jam in the fourth. He fanned three consecutive batters to strand a pair of runners in scoring position in what was just a three-run game at the time.
“It was vintage Jared,” Mainieri said. “He didn’t dominate at times, though he ended up with a lot of strikeouts … He pitches in the clutch when he needs to.”
Poche’ retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced, scattering five hits and not issuing a single walk over those six strong to earn a fourth victory in as many starts.
“My fastball command was a lot better as far as the last two weeks,” Poche’ said. “And when I’m landing my breaking ball early on, that really helps me.”
Despite the excruciating long layoff — both LSU and Utah Valley left the premises altogether to wait out the storm in cozier confines — the Tigers went to work in a hurry against big Wolverine right-hander Danny Beddes after Fraley got the ball rolling.
“Especially in the postseason, any time you jump ahead like that its huge,” Fraley said. “You get the momentum rolling. You get some at-bats put together for yourself offensively, and then when Poche’ is sitting in the dugout and he sees that, it gives him a confidence boost.”
Cole Freman dunked an RBI single into centerfield with two outs in the second inning to score Beau Jordan, who led off the frame with a walk and stole second. Greg Deichmann delivered a two-out RBI single to left one inning later and went opposite field again for a two-run blast in the seventh.
Robertson doubled and came around to score in both the third and fifth innings, though replay showed the latter should have been ruled a solo home run. Bryce Jordan rendered the point moot by dunking an RBI single into shallow right-center.
The shortstop later took a fastball off his right wrist but, as has become commonplace for LSU’s indestructible man, he convinced Mainieri and trainer Cory Couture to let him stay in the game. X-rays on that wrist found no fractures, and while Robertson acknowledged he’s in a good deal of pain, he declared himself “ready to go” for Saturday.
Three LSU relievers worked shutout innings to slam the door shut after Poche’s departure. Jake Latz fanned two in an impressive seventh and Russell Reynolds and John Valek III handled the eighth and ninth, respectively.
With the Rice-Southeastern game being postponed to 9 a.m. Saturday, LSU now holds a major advantage going forward in the regional. The loser of that contest will face Utah Valley in an elimination game at 2 p.m. while the winner will draw Alex Lange and the Tigers at 7 p.m.
“Winning the first two games of this tournament, in my opinion, is very critical,” Mainieri said, asked about the strategic advantage his club now holds. “Getting this first game was important, but no important than winning tomorrow night’s game.”
– Prior to the national anthem, a moment of silence was observed in memory of Vanderbilt freshman pitcher Donny Everett. LSU also paid tribute by stenciling Everett’s initials onto their hats and Mainieri began his postgame remarks with extending his thoughts and prayers to the Vanderbilt family.
– Catcher Mike Papierski, typically a switch hitter, batted right-handed against Utah Valley starter Danny Beddes, another right hander. He ripped a leadoff double down the left-field line in the sixth against right-handed reliever Jake Mayer. Mainieri said after the game that the backstop would be swinging exclusively right-handed for the remainder of the postseason, a decision he and Andy Cannizaro broached earlier in the week.