At first it seemed like Rice was still riding the momentum of the last few days. The Owls were able to chip a couple of hits off of Jake Latz in the first 2 innings to give themselves a 2-0 lead. Wary of things getting lopsided again, Coach Mainieri pulled Latz after just 1.1 IP and brought in Russell Reynolds to put the fire out. In the 3rd, Jared Poche' returned for his 2nd outing of the weekend, though his start Friday night now seems like it was weeks ago. In the postgame interviews, Mainieri himself admitted he only expected to get at most 3 innings out of Poche', but what he got instead was one of the best outings of his career.
Jared Poche' grabbed control of the game from Rice almost singlehandedly, retiring 17 straight batters at one point, giving up only a single hit and 0 walks in his 6.0 IP outing. He recorded 6Ks while on the mound which, added to his 8 from Friday, gave him the most Ks of any pitcher in the regional round at 14. Poche' utterly shut down a Rice offense that had been "hotter than a fire ant on a sunburn" and bought enough time for the LSU batters to find their way around Rice's own surprise on the mound.
Willy Amador, a sophomore RHP who entered the night with a 5.88 ERA and a 2-1 record, turned into some kind of savant, attacking LSU with a slower speed pitch than what the Tigers had seen the last few weeks against the SEC elite. He was able to get the Tigers to swing at the cheap stuff and induce their own ground outs and pop ups, facing only one batter over the minimum through the first 6 innings.
At some point, LSU was going to get to Amador. They just need Poche to hang on long enough to get them there. That moment came in the 7th when Amador gave up his first and only walk of the night to a lead off Jake Fraley. Kramer Robertson followed that with a grounder to right that put runners on the corners and gave Bryce Jordan an easy Sac Fly RBI. At this point you think LSU is going to keep chipping at Amador and work another run home, but then Greg Deichmann comes to the plate and decides he's had enough playing around. A bomb unlike anything seen in Alex Box since the last good days of aluminum, Deichmann launched one to dead center, 417 feet and bounced it off the center field TV camera for a 2 run RBI.
The 3-2 lead for LSU was all well and good, but Rice was still a serious threat to grab that lead back. LSU needed Poche to hang on just a bit longer and he did just that with a quick 1-2-3 7th. In the 8th Papierski led off with a solo shot of his own to LF, then the speedy Fraley beat out a bobbled grounder to 1st, stole 2nd and took 3rd on an errant throw, then came home on a single to right center by Robertson that turned into a run and a double thanks to more of LSU's aggressive baserunning. LSU carried a 5-2 lead through the 8th where Poche again breezed through the Rice batters. After a quick up and down for LSU in the top of the 9th, Hunter Newman came in to close and worked through the final three outs almost without drama, sealing the Regional Championship.
After a work week's worth of baseball, the Tigers get to wrap themselves in ice and rest up for a Super Regional at home. The Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina bested NC State in their own game 7 earlier on Tuseday and are making their way to Baton Rouge for the weekend. It will be a Saturday-Sunday-Monday Super, with the games starting at 7pm and airing on an ESPN station TBD