LSU found their stroke Friday night as the Tigers (19-9) broke out of an offensive slump to beat Texas A&M (18-10) 7-4 to even the series between the two schools.
For the first time all season, the Alex Box Stadium crowd came to life when Josh Smith left his feet in the third inning to pull down a high chopper that turned into a beautiful 5-4-3 double play ball that wiped out a leadoff single from Jared Poche’. The energy from the crowd also reached the players, who felt it in a big way.
LSU snapped out of their conference play slump immediately after in the third inning when Zach Watson roped a double down the left field line to energize the crowd. Freeman ramped up the energy with his single to left and then Antoine Duplantis brought the crowd to a frenzy with his dime to left field. When Kramer Robertson knocked two runs in on his double to left to put LSU ahead 3-0 for a fourth straight hit, he nearly blew the lid off of the stadium.
“Yesterday I said that it can be one play, one at bat, something that gets some momentum and gets everybody going,” Robertson said about the atmosphere that Smith’s play created. “The combination of Josh’s double play and the freshman Watson coming up with the big double and then Cole, Antoine and myself stringing together hits together for the first time in a while, it got some momentum and got some confidence in everybody.”
“It’s pretty cool to see two freshman step up like that and get the whole team going.”
LSU threatened in the fourth but would fail to add anything, but struck for a run in the fifth when Duplantis’ single was answered with a a single from Josh Smith to push LSU’s lead to 4-0.
The Aggies halved the lead in the seventh inning when Poche’ allowed a leadoff single to left field from Austin Homan. That came back to haunt Poche’ as the next batter Walker Pennington took the senior left hander deep to left field. Allowing leadoff batters on was a weakness for Poche’, as he did it in five of the seven innings he pitched, including the first four frames of the game.
Poche’ was in a especially tough jam in the fourth inning when he walked the leadoff batter, recorded a putout, and allowed a walk and single to load the bases with one out. He reared back and blew a curveball right by Homan for out number two and induced a pop fly to escape danger. Poche’ finished with eight hits allowed in seven innings, allowing two runs to score and walking just two while striking out six.
“Tonight was more vintage Poche’,” Mainieri said after the game about his dodgy senior and his propensity for allowing jams. “I’m telling you, he’s amazing and I wouldn’t trade him for anybody but it makes the coach a little bit nervous on occasion.”
“It was all self-induced,” Poche’ said of his tricky jam. “I put that on myself...I just had to buckle down and get them out.”
After A&M made the game interesting, LSU offered a resounding response. Robertson missed a leadoff home run by maybe a foot and was rounding first base by the time the ball pulled in front of the pole. Robertson trotted back to the plate and straightened one out, a no-doubter that left the ballpark entirely.
Not to be showed up, LSU slugger Greg Deichmann immediately followed suit with a home run of his own, a mammoth big fly that barely crawled over the right field fence thanks to the insane 46 degree launch angle.
“It’s really not fair that he can mishit a ball that much and still hit a home run,” an upstaged Robertson said. “If anybody else in the country mishits the ball like he did there, it’s a routine 280 foot fly out.”
“Some of the balls he hits...they make you feel bad about yourself.”
LSU had back to back home runs, and that’s always big for sure, but given the struggles the Tigers had recently and with the context of the game, it felt immense for LSU. Two of the Tiger’s veteran leaders came on the field after A&M cut the lead in half and put the run difference back on the board. And as big as that was, what happened next was probably even more important.
In relief of Poche’ was Hunter Newman, fresh off of a back injury. In the eighth he made his return a grand one, striking out the side.
“It’s like he was never gone,” Mainieri said.
LSU plated a final run in the eighth inning when Robertson legged out an infield single and advanced to third on the ole stolen base wild pitch combo, scoring on three straight walks from A&M pitching to put LSU ahead 7-2.
Todd Peterson came on to finish the game and he did, but not before allowing a double and a home run to allow Texas A&M to tack on those two runs to bring the final score to 7-4.
Rankin Woley got the start for the struggling Jake Slaughter at first base and had a decent night, recording two hits and reaching base three times, and most importantly committing no errors.
“It was a little bit of an adjustment, getting used to Kramer’s throws and Cole’s throws since I don’t usually take those,” Woley said of his transition to first base. “I had to make extra sure my body was stretched out in order to make some of those splits that I needed to make.”
“I don’t know if ‘relief’ is the right word, but it was enjoyable,” Robertson said of the team effort. “It was enjoyable to have so many guys have great games and Poche’ throw well behind them and it was a quality team win against a good opponent.”