Jared Poché isn’t an overtly emotional guy. Watching Hunter Newman record three outs Tuesday for a save in the ninth inning of LSU’s 5-2 NCAA regional-clinching win over Rice, sandwiched along the dugout railing between Russell Reynolds and Parker Bugg, he looked like he was watching someone work a midweek bullpen.
But don’t confuse calm with a lack of determination. And don’t mistake his steady hand for anything less than what the Tigers so badly needed on this winner-take-all afternoon against the Owls.
LSU’s season was on the verge of imploding like one of those condemned buildings that gets dynamited when it’s outlived its purpose. Rice outslugged the Tigers 10-6 Monday night, making the regional’s “if necessary” game necessary.
Tuesday it looked like the Tigers were going out with a whimper. Rice scratched across single runs in the first and second innings, but the way Owls starter Willy Amador was beating LSU’s bats into ploughshares, it felt like 20-0.
The Tigers couldn’t afford to let Rice pull away any more than it already had. After a quickly disintegrating start from Jake Latz and a brief bit of two-out relief from Reynolds, LSU sent for Poché.
Poche has been LSU’s Friday or Saturday night starter all season. Bringing him on for long relief is putting him out of his comfort zone. But this was the Tigers’ desperate hour, and they needed someone to cool the Owls’ hot hitters — 27 runs in 19 innings from Monday’s two wins over Southeastern Louisiana and LSU to the first two innings Tuesday — long enough for LSU’s hitters to finally find the mark.
“I wasn’t sure how long I was going to go,” Poché said. “Coach said two, three, maybe four innings.
“My job was to go out there and throw up as many zeros as possible and get us off the field as quick as possible and let them get at the plate.”
Enter Poché the potent. Poché the powerful. Poché the man who made Rice’s surging offense suddenly go “Poof!” — disappearing like a mirage in the afternoon sun.
“He was awesome,” LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn said. “His fastball, curve, his command was off the chart. I don’t think he missed a spot.”
Poché ended up throwing six innings. Sixty-nine pitches, 50 for strikes. He gave up one hit, no walks and struck out six.
“He pitched better than we thought he could,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said candidly.
Poché turned the tables on the Owls until Greg Deichmann could turn on an Amador fastball and send into an elliptical orbit over the 405-foot sign in center field for at two-run home run and a 3-2 LSU lead in the seventh.
Deichmann earned regional MVP honors in a vote of media covering this baseball boat ride from one rain delayed game to the next.
But Poché was just as deserving if not more so, having also pitched six innings of one-run ball Friday in LSU’s 7-1 regional-opening win over Utah Valley.
“He was as good as I’ve ever seen him,” said Robertson, who was at second when Deichmann’s ball reached escape velocity. “Greg’s the MVP of the regional, well deserving, but we don’t win the regional today without Jared Poche.
“I don’t think Jared wanted this to be his last game at Alex Box (Stadium) and he pitched like it.”
Robertson’s praise for the first time made Poché, a junior lefty from Lutcher, a Bulldog in every sense, look downward a bit in emotion. Maybe, as Tom Hanks said, there’s no crying in baseball. Most days. But the gravity of a moment like that can crack the toughest stone.
As for Poché pitching on three days rest, Dunn said Tuesday would have been his bullpen day anyway. The coach said he probably threw only 25 more pitches than he would have in practice.
Now, Poché gets to throw again for real when Coastal Carolina comes to town for the super regional this weekend.
You’d assume that LSU would start Alex Lange in Saturday’s Game 1, then Poché in Sunday’s Game 2. That means the ball will be in Poché’s hand to either save LSU’s season yet again or propel the Tigers to the College World Series.
It’ll be a steady hand. It’ll be just what LSU needs.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.