HOOVER, Ala. – Jared Poché doesn’t get down. He gets mad.
A rough, 23-pitch first inning had LSU’s freshman pitcher fiery in the dugout. So he took his anger out on a team he failed to best two months ago.
And so did the Tigers hitters.
The result? A stunning final score that ended the game before nine full innings.
Poché pitched a five-hitter through seven innings, shortstop Alex Bregman drove in five runs and the Tigers walloped 15 hits to open the Southeastern Conference tournament with a booming victory Wednesday at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
They run-ruled the Commodores.
“Outstanding performance,” coach Paul Mainieri said, “in every phase.”
The roll continues.
The Tigers (41-14-1) have won their last five games by a 67-5 score. That’s the largest margin of victory in a five-game stretch for an LSU team since 1999.
Mainieri’s club has had double-digit hits and runs in four of the five and is batting .398 in those games.
LSU, the tournament’s No. 3 seed, meets seventh seed Arkansas at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in a key game to winning the event. The winner moves to a single-elimination semifinal at noon Saturday, receiving a bye Friday. Ace Aaron Nola (9-1, 1.42) will start against the Hogs (37-21), who upset 2 seed Ole Miss on Wednesday.
A team on the fringe of hosting an NCAA regional, LSU made a loud statement Wednesday, using the tournament’s 10-run mercy rule against the Commodores (41-17) and their lofty No. 6 RPI.
Another offensive explosion overshadowed a sparkling tournament debut from Poché, the country boy from Lutcher who recovered after a disappointing opening frame.
He allowed three hits in the first, one a dropped line drive from left fielder Sean McMullen. Racing backward, McMullen stumbled and fell. The ball appeared to pop out of his glove when he hit the ground.
It was the first batter of the game.
“Things like that happen,” Poché said. “I wasn’t able to get out of the inning, but I was able to limit the damage.”
And then he mowed down the Dores, retiring nine of the next 10 batters after the first inning. He allowed just two hits and no runs over the final six innings, and he retired his last seven batters.
Was he mad after that first inning?
“He was mad,” Mainieri said. “He never gets down. He gets made more than he gets down. He gets mad when he makes one pitch and it doesn’t go exactly where he wanted to. You see him smack his glove sometimes. (He’s) just the ultimate competitor out there.”
In between the first and second inning, pitching coach Alan Dunn talked with Poché in the dugout. The coach told him to relax. He wanted him to “slow the game down” and “sit back on the rubber a little bit longer,” Poché said.
He got help from his bats. That’s nothing new.
Bregman hit a three-run home run and went 3-for-4 at the plate, and Mark Laird and Conner Hale added three hits each as LSU rolled again offensively. The Tigers have scored 67 runs and had 76 hits over the last 40 innings, a streak that dates back five games.
“We’ve had quite a week or two swinging the bat,” Mainieri said.
Bregman drove in a run with a sac-fly in the sixth, and he added an RBI single in the seventh on the final play of the game. The mercy rule took effect to end a drubbing that the NCAA committee can’t ignore.
LSU, most experts say, are on the bubble of being one of the 16 teams to receive a bid to host a regional. Many believe Vanderbilt entered the SEC tournament as one of four SEC teams that will host.
Mainieri fought for his team again in the postgame press conference, preaching that the SEC should get five host sites and that the Tigers are worthy of one.
“I like our résumé,” Mainieri said. “I’m not saying we deserve a host site over any team in this tournament. I think we all deserve it. We’ve proved today and over the course of the long season that we have a pretty good ballclub that’s deserving.”
Poché helped the Tigers get there.
It was an about-face performance from the one he had in March in Nashville in his first SEC start. Poché walked five in that game and allowed four runs.
Wednesday’s performance was another signal that the rookie is maturing. His outings away from Alex Box Stadium have gone from rough to mediocre to brilliant.
He pitched a three-hit, eight-inning shutout at Auburn last weekend and proved Wednesday he could win a postseason game on the road.
He grabbed a ninth win this season in the biggest start of his career.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been nervous for baseball,” Poché said. “It’s something that excites me.”