LSU (34-17) beat Auburn (32-20) in game two of the series against their SEC West rivals. With the win, the Bayou Bengals also won the series and scored a serious notch in the national postseason picture as well as improving their standing in the SEC race.
Auburn pushed LSU early with two leadoff singles in the first two innings but LSU cancelled them both with a double play.
LSU broke the deadlock in the third inning when Michael Papierski drew a one out walk and advanced to third on a single from Zach Watson, scoring on a ground ball to the second baseman from Kramer Robertson.
Jared Poche’ got into more hot water in the fourth when he walked two batters to start the inning. The lead runner moved to third on a flyball to left, but Papierski hosed Conor Davis at second for the second out despite Davis having a preferable jump on the pitch. Poche’ worked out of the jam with a ground ball to Cole Freeman at second.
LSU added some much-needed insurance runs in the fifth when Beau Jordan hit an infield single followed shortly by a Zach Watson two run blast to left field to put the Tigers of the bayou variety up 3-0.
“We’ve settled in in the clutch,” Watson said amid the explosion of fireworks after the game. “We’re not pushing ourselves as much, we’re getting the job done now and that’s what matters.”
Auburn got on the board in the sixth due in no small part to two back-to-back infield singles that came as tough luck plays for LSU. One was a ground ball that Freeman had to charge and throw behind his body and one was a line drive that bounced off a diving Josh Smith. A tailor made double play ball came Smith’s way the next at-bat, but he bobbled the exchange and had to settle for the only out at second base. The lead runner Todd moved to third and scored on the ensuing sacrifice fly to right field to bring Auburn within 3-1.
Poche’ left the game in the seventh inning with two outs after allowing a single. Up to that point, the night was looking like a perfect regular season sendoff for Jared Poché given how much this game was a must-win for LSU. Ideally you’d want him to go a little deeper into the game but with a fresh bullpen it made more sense to play it safe. Zack Hess came in to relieve Poche’ amid a rousing ovation for the senior southpaw.
Poche’s final line saw him go 6.2 innings, allowing six hits and being charged with two runs, but with only one being earned while walking three and striking out one. It’s not a pretty statline, but it is what Poche’ did with it that makes him special.
“Jared Poche’ did what he always does,” Paul Mainieri said after the game, placing added emphasis on “always”. “In the first six innings he let the leadoff hitter get on four or five times (it was five), seemed like every time, but he pitched his heart out and deserved a win.”
“Just like he always does, Poche’ met the challenge. He graduated earlier today and got the patch on his sleeve that says ‘SEC Graduate’ and then he went out there and pitched his heart out. That’s the only shame is that he didn’t get the win.”
Things then went south quickly for LSU. Smith fielded a ground ball that should have been the final out of the inning, but his throw to first was wide and low. It was a three base error that allowed Estes to score to bring Auburn within a run. Holland scored easily from third with a Todd single to left field to tie the game at three.
That was the third and most costly tough luck play from Josh Smith, who all season had been stellar at third base, especially for a freshman. But baseball is a cruel sport and tonight he simply made badly timed mistakes and had the misfortune of having to play some hard balls.
“That’s the first error that Josh (Smith) has made this year that I felt like hurt the team,” Mainieri said. “But I told him after the game that he shows what kind of winner he is because a lesser kid would have hung his head and not want the ball hit to him. Leadoff batter of the ninth inning chops one at him and if he hangs back on that, the ball plays him, but he acted, he was aggressive, came in and got the short hop, and gunned the ball over to first perfectly.”
He instantly made up for with a leadoff walk in the ensuing seventh inning, which proved to be huge when Michael Papierski launched a mammoth no-doubter over the right field wall to break the tie and put LSU ahead 5-3.
Auburn got a single in the eighth and ninth innings, but Zack Hess and Hunter Newman managed the Auburn threat and closed out the game and series for LSU.
LSU will go for the sweep tomorrow at noon. The seniors on the team, including Poché, will be honored in a ceremony before the game. The game will be broadcast on the big tv on the SEC Network as well as online via the WatchESPN app.