Something just didn’t feel right when Jared Poche was getting loose Saturday as he and No. 6-ranked LSU were preparing to take on Wichita State at Alex Box Stadium.
And for a guy who has felt awfully right all season long, that was certainly something different.
Poche’s intuition was accurate to a degree, but his veteran grit trumped everything else.
The Tigers’ left-hander logged 7 more shutout innings and the offense erupted early and often as LSU barreled past the Shockers 12-5 for a second win in as many days.
Freshman center fielder Zach Watson, Greg Deichmann and leadoff hitter Kramer Robertson each supplied three hits as the Tigers peppered Wichita State (8-5) for 17 hits.
“(Saturday) was a grind,” said Poche, who upped his record to 4-0 and extended his scoreless inning streak to 29 innings to begin his senior season.
“I didn’t really have much when I was warming up in the bullpen. Fastball coming out was wavering early on, and I didn’t really have a put-away pitch all game. But I gutted it out and the defense played well behind me. This was a good team win.”
With plenty of offense as a backdrop to Poche’s less-than-dominant excellence.
LSU (11-4) broke open a tight battle with back-to-back four-run innings in the 5th and 6th, with Watson, Mike Papierski and Deichmann each homering in an impressive fireworks show.
Watson got the start in center field in an ongoing audition between him and Brennan Breaux and broke out with singles in his first two trips to the plate – the second driving in Cole Freeman to give LSU a 2-0 lead – before he bashed a three-run bomb that soared over the bleachers in left field.
“We got a real spark from Zach Watson (Saturday),” Tigers’ coach Paul Mainieri said. “That’s called taking advantage of your opportunity. On his first at bat he smoked one to left field, and on his next two at bats were in clutch situations with runners in scoring position, and he smashed the ball hard again, one off the third baseman and one into the stands for two runs. I was really happy to see the spark that he provided our team.”
The freshman from West Ouachita shrugged off the biggest day so far in his college career.
“I was just going for an RBI,” he said about the first homer of his career. “He threw me two inside fastballs before that I hit. I said ‘Those are up. If he throws me one a little bit lower, I am going to try to hit it out.’ He came in with a fastball a little low, and I did it.”
Mainieri feigned shock, saying Watson’s wiry build belies his raw power. There was nothing like that when talked about Deichmann.
Papierski popped the cork on the 6th inning when he unloaded a solo blast into the right-field bleachers on reliever Tommy Barnhouse’s first offering. That proved to be just the beginning of Barnhouse’s troubles.
Robertson laced a line drive down the left-field line that he legged into a double. Freeman pumped a single to deep left field to score Robertson and he got to second when Antoine Duplantis rolled out to the first baseman.
Deichmann took a pitch for a ball and then slammed Barnhouse’s next pitch the other way for a 411-foot homer to left-center field and 10-0 cushion.
Robertson and Duplantis chased home two-out runs with singles in the 7th to nudge the lead to 12-0. Wichita State got to LSU reliever Hunter Kiel for five runs in the 9th, but that was too little, way too late.
Sparked by Robertson and Deichmann, the top four batters in the Tigers’ batting order were again huge: They combined for 10 hits in 17 at-bats with 8 runs and 4 RBIs.
A key difference was that the rest of the lineup was also productive.
Watson’s three hits were the center piece, but every other starter except Jordan Romero had a hit, all three scored and two drove in runs.
“Really the whole team, I thought, played very well,” Mainieri said. “I challenged them after the game (Friday). We had four guys that did well (Friday) night, and five that didn’t do much, so we need to get more balance out of the lineup. (Saturday) we showed more balance and that was very encouraging.”
And plenty of backup for Poche.
Though not as razor-sharp as he was in his first three starts, Poche tied Wichita State in knots for most of his 7-inning stint. A tricky exception was in the 4th inning when the Shockers put Poche through his toughest test of the season.
WSU leadoff hitter Travis Young scorched a ball that one-hopped Josh Smith at third base. He dug it out and threw in plenty of time because Young stopped running, thinking the ball had been caught on a line.
Alex Jackson and Alec Bohm did find holes for consecutive singles – the first time this season Poche has allowed back-to-back knocks.
Poche fell behind cleanup batter Greyson Jenista 3-and-0, threw a get-me-over strike and grooved another fastball. Jenista drilled the ball to deep center where Watson hauled it in for the second out and Poche snuffed out the threat by winning a battle with Trey Vickers with a called third strike.
“That was a big inning,” Poche said. “Leadoff line-out (actually a ground out) to Josh, and then base hit, base hit, and their big guy comes up, and I left a pitch over the plate, and he put a good swing on it.
“I just had to live off the fast ball (Saturday) and miss bats in big situations when guys are on base, and I was lucky enough to do that.”
The series wraps up Sunday with a scheduled 2 p.m. start time. LSU freshman Eric Walker (1-0, 3.00 ERA) gets the ball and will face Wichita State senior righty Zach Lewis (1-0, 3.00).