Jared Poché’s mission is to strand runners.
His offense followed suit at the worst time.
Although it put runners on base in every inning, LSU stranded 12 — including the bases loaded in a tie game in the top of the ninth — and limped to a 3-for-17 showing with runners in scoring position, ending its season with a 4-3 loss to Coastal Carolina in the second and decisive game of the Baton Rouge super regional Sunday. Michael Paez had the winning hit in the bottom of the ninth for Coastal.
It was just LSU’s second super regional loss at Alex Box Stadium and the first it has ever lost in two games.
Down 3-2 entering the ninth, LSU tied the score at 3 on a zany sacrifice bunt and had the bases loaded with one out, the potential go-ahead run 90 feet away.
Cole Freeman had reached on a routine grounder that Cameron Pearcey neglected to field, letting it ride up his arm as LSU’s diminutive second baseman delivered a safe, head-first slide into first.
After moving to second on Bobby Holmes’ wild pitch during a five-pitch walk to Antoine Duplantis, Freeman scored on Jake Fraley’s perfect sacrifice bunt that ended with the Tigers center fielder barrelling over first baseman Kevin Woodall Jr., who could not catch the relay throw.
Everyone was safe and LSU had its most potent threat of the night to recapture a lead.
Like those before it, the uprising ended quickly. Brody Wofford struck out on a full count with runners on the corners. Beau Jordan followed with a weak pop fly on Holmes’ first pitch — LSU’s seventh fly ball out with a runner in scoring position.
“Just tip your cap to him,” Fraley said, fighting tears. “He made some good pitches, but we didn’t put the greatest swings on the ball in certain situations. We as a team know that and understand that.”
Tigers closer Hunter Newman walked Chanticleers leadoff man Anthony Marks to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Marks swiped second base before Newman surrendered a game-ending, chopping single to New York Mets fourth-round pick Paez, who had struck out three times.
Paez’s ball bounced just out of Chris Reid’s reach, sending his team onto the field in a frenzy to celebrate the program’s — and the Big South Conference’s — first trip to college baseball’s mecca.
“They’re good kids, and they deserved it over us,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “They played better than we did. They did everything better than we did. They outcoached us, they outplayed us, they just were hungrier than we were this weekend.”
Added Chanticleers coach Gary Gilmore: “I just felt like it was destiny for us.”
The game, on paper, was perhaps a mismatch for Poché — a southpaw pitching on four days’ rest without an overpowering arsenal against the nation’s top home run-hitting team. Poché thrives on contact, relying on crisp defense behind him to ensure success.
In the beginning, he did not receive it.
Both second baseman Freeman and first baseman Greg Deichmann went for Marks’ slow grounder in the hole to lead off the game, leaving no one to cover first base. Poché raced over once Freeman fielded the ball, which was hit more toward second, but Marks beat him easily for an infield single.
The speedy leadoff man took second easily on Paez’s deep fly ball to Fraley, who threw wildly and off the line. Mike Papierski did not block a pitch during Connor Owings’ walk, nor did he block the third strike to cleanup man Zach Remillard, allowing Marks to score the game’s first run on Poché’s second wild pitch of the inning.
G.K. Young, who took Alex Lange out for an opposite-field home run in Saturday’s 11-8 LSU loss, laced a first-pitch single following Remillard’s punchout, scoring Owings for a 2-0 lead.
“There’s nothing more frustrating to me than when we play with poor fundamentals,” Mainieri said. “Obviously the coach is responsible for that. We work on things all the time, but we had some miscommunication, we had some poor baserunning. If we played more fundamentally sound, we’d probably be playing tomorrow. But I’m the one that takes responsibility for that.”
Those were the only runs to cross while Poché pitched. He allowed a baserunner in every inning, departing in the sixth with a man in scoring position, but he adhered to his reputation when all reached.
He entered the game stranding 77.2 percent of the runners he allowed. Poché stranded five Sunday, including three in scoring position, across 5.1 innings of five-hit baseball.
“I felt great today,” Poché said. “My body felt great. Nothing held me back or anything like that. I was ready to go. … No one likes to lose, and obviously to lose a game to end the season is heartbreaking. It’s tough to handle, but at the end of the day someone had to lose and unfortunately it was us.”
The Chanticleers spilled onto the field from the home dugout in LSU’s park, dumping their coach with a celebratory ice bath while the vocal, teal-clad section of fans reveled.
Somber in the visiting dugout, the Tigers struggled to grasp finality.
“It’s your worst nightmare,” Freeman said, “being two games away from Omaha. It’s everything you work for all year. It kind of sucks.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome