Kody Reynolds’ chopper eluded Jared Poché’s glove and bounced over second base.
In this 6-0 victory over Sacramento State on Friday night at Alex Box Stadium, Poché had exceeded 90 pitches in a workmanlike, two-hit outing in which his curveball mystified an all-righty lineup.
Kramer Robertson scurried from his position, slid behind the bag, smothered the ball and protected what was then a tenuous 2-0 lead in the top of the sixth inning.
Preceding the gem was another from Cole Freeman, who charged Chris Lewis’ slow roller to make a routine play — exactly what his coach, Paul Mainieri, requests of his shortstop.
“When you have a guy like (Poché) on the mound, you don’t want to let him down because he’s throwing so well,” Robertson said. “He was a bulldog out there tonight, and I think that it’s huge. When you make that first play of the inning, it helps Poché’s confidence, helps the whole team’s confidence and it hurts the other team’s confidence.”
They were two standard plays from this retooled LSU infield — plays the Hornets neglected to make behind their ace, Sam Long, who allowed just one earned run and one extra-base hit over 5.2 innings but was saddled with a loss in LSU’s first errorless game of the season, a series-opening victory in which Sacramento State committed four errors.
Robertson’s second-inning RBI double into the left-field corner on an elevated fastball was one of the Tigers’ two extra-base hits on a nine-hit night.
“I think facing a guy like this tonight that was the best thing that could have happened to me offensively,” said Robertson, who came into Friday with a .125 average at the top of the order. “You’re trying to shoot the ball the other way, because (Long is) living away with that fastball-changeup combo. It really made me shorten up my swing the last couple days and had a good approach. That was the perfect guy to get me going.”
The Tigers brought a calculated approach against Long, a power left-hander who touched 90 mph with a two-seam fastball. Their goal: shorten their swings and try to take balls the other way.
Antoine Duplantis, the left-handed-hitting freshman moved to eighth in the order because of the matchup, did that on a second-inning full count, slicing a one-out single to left field. It was his only hit of the evening, but Mainieri said Duplantis’ three at-bats were his best of the season, showing a more aggressive swing instead of slapping at the ball.
Sacramento State shortstop Trent Goodrich kicked what was surely a 6-4-3 double-play ball from O’Neal Lochridge two pitches later, turning the lineup over to Robertson for his double that put the Tigers up 2-0.
“I told (Robertson), ‘If you want to be the leadoff hitter, you have to have more than one good at-bat a game for us. That’s not enough,’ ” Mainieri said. “I think he took it to heart.”
With good feel for his curveball, thrown anywhere from 78 to 80 mph, Poché had seven strikeouts through his first four innings, issuing just two singles. He finished his six-inning outing with eight strikeouts and without allowing a runner to third base.
“One of my four pitches that was working, luckily,” Poché quipped. “Changeup wasn’t there, cutter wasn’t there, fastball was hit or miss. But I was able to put guys away when I needed to and guys put runs up on the board so it was a good team ‘W.’ ”
Two days after the pitching staff combined to walk eight batters and hit four more, Poché’s three walks were the only free passes allowed. Jesse Stallings, Russell Reynolds and Doug Norman combined for three scoreless, one-hit innings to close the game.
Already ahead 2-0, LSU benefitted from two sixth-inning errors. Jordan Romero golfed a single into short center field to start.
Two pitches later, Bryce Adams tapped a ball four feet from the plate, but Long threw wide of first. Romero and Adams were lifted for pinch runners that Duplantis advanced 90 feet with a bunt.
Lochridge, who finished with the Tigers’ only other extra-base hit, brought in Brennan Breaux with a two-strike sacrifice fly before Goodrich booted Robertson’s grounder, allowing the Tigers’ fourth run to score.
“One of the key at-bats of the game,” Mainieri said of Lochridge’s sacrifice fly.
Lochridge ended that sixth inning defensive clinic with a routine grounder of his own. Robertson also chased a fly ball into foul territory in short right field to begin the fourth.
“Well-played game,” Mainieri said “Very crisp game by us defensively.”