The No. 4 Tigers (13-1) defeated No. 12 Houston (8-5) on Friday, 4-2, in each team’s opening game of the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park. LSU rode an impressive night from Jared Poché and a three-run first inning to get past the Cougars.
Houston served as the toughest challenge — based on RPI — that LSU has faced thus far. And though a win in March doesn’t fully make up for last year’s tourney exit, it does make a nice point to have on the Tigers’ early résumé.
“Getting a W against a team like that is going to help us out in the long run,” Poché said.
Houston struck early, as leadoff man Kyle Survance drilled a ground-rule double into left-center to start the game. He moved to third on a sacrifice bunt in the next at-bat, landing 90-feet from home with only one out.
But Poché dialed in and struck out the next batter and got Chris Iriart to pop out to end the threat.
That was just the start of Poché’s strong outing, as he finished with a season-high 7 2/3 innings pitched, surrendering two runs on four hits with four strikeouts and three walks.
“Poché doesn’t make it look easy,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “Poché’s a grinder. He’s one of those guys you have to believe in, because he’s going to get in some jams, but he never packs the tent. He never gives up.”
The LSU offense provided its support in the bottom of that first inning.
Bregman kicked it off with a two-out double down the left field line. Chris Chinea brought him home with a single to left. Then Conner Hale brought the power with a two-run shot into the left field seats. That was his first homer of the season, and he’s now hit safely in all 14 of LSU’s games.
This one gave LSU a 3-0 lead.
“Playing in a major league park, and hitting a home run in my first at-bat, I’m never going to forget that moment,” Hale said. “We were just trying to get a quick lead on Houston, and we were able to do that.”
Poché got tested again in the third. Houston had a runner on first and second with designated hitter Jacob Campbell at the plate. He drilled a liner to Hale at third, who couldn’t hang on to record the out. He still tried to make the throw, but it was off the mark, and it allowed Survance to score.
Poché would walk the next batter to load the bases, but Connor Wong grounded out to third in the next at-bat to end the inning.
Poché settled in after that. He retired 14 of the next 15 batters he faced. The only exception was a solo home run to start the sixth.
Mainieri decided to pull him with two outs in the eighth after he’d reached the 104-pitch mark — his highest total this season.
“I thought he got stronger as the game went on,” Mainieri said. “The last few innings were his best innings, and if his pitch count hadn’t been run up as high as it did, he might’ve been able to finish.”
Those three runs in the first inning were enough for LSU to secure the win, but the Tigers got one more for good measure in the fourth.
Hale led off the inning with a single to center. Andrew Stevenson moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt. Kade Scivicque sent a grounder to Wong at short. He attempted to get the runner at third, but his throw was off the mark, and Hale came around to score.
That made it 4-1 at the time before Houston cut the deficit in half with that homer in the sixth inning.
Alden Cartwright replaced Poché with two outs in the eighth and struck out the only batter he faced. Jesse Stallings entered in the ninth and retired the side in order to close it out.
He’s now perfect in all six of his save opportunities and has only allowed one hit with 10 strikeouts in 6 2/3 total innings.
LSU will play its second game of the Houston College Classic on Saturday, facing Baylor at 3:30 p.m. Alex Lange will take the mound, trying to continue his hot start to his LSU career.
In other action from the first day of the Houston College Classic: Hawaii defeated Baylor, 2-1, in the opener…Texas A&M hit a home run in the eighth inning to beat Nebraska, 2-1, and remain undefeated on the season.