Slump? What slump?
LSU broke out of its offensive doldrums with an offensive outing that was louder than the box score suggests, and senior Jared Poché turned in a vintage performance as LSU evened the series with a 7-4 win against Texas A&M on Friday night in Alex Box Stadium.
“Hitting is contagious, and not hitting is also contagious,” said shortstop Kramer Robertson, who drove in three runs. “You saw that, once we strung some hits together, it gave everybody confidence. It was fun. Today was really fun.”
The Tigers (19-9, 5-3 Southeastern Conference), who had been shut out twice in their previous five games and had looked decidedly off at the plate for the better part of two weeks, snapped out of it with a three-run third inning.
Zach Watson woke up the dormant offense when he yanked a sharp double down the third-base line with one out. Watson’s double was the first of four consecutive LSU hits, the first time the team accomplished that feat since the last time its offense looked right, in its 22-run barrage against Georgia three weeks ago.
The big hit of the inning was Robertson’s chopper that bounced high over a leaping George Janca at third base. Both Cole Freeman and Antoine Duplantis wheeled around to score, and Robertson chugged into second base ahead of the throw before giving a big fist pump to the roar of a suddenly energized crowd.
That it was Robertson who came up with the first big hit was appropriate. The senior had sort of come to symbolize the team’s recent offensive woes.
Entering Friday, Robertson had one hit in his previous 25 at-bats. He tripled that total Friday.
“The crazy thing about it was, I felt like I wasn’t having a lot of roll-overs or mis-hit balls,” Robertson said. “I felt like those 25 at-bats had a lot of hard-hit balls, balls on the barrel. It was just the craziest thing; I couldn’t find holes. So it felt good to get that one to bounce over his head; it just got me going.”
Any and all frustration that he may have kept bottled up during his slump he appeared to unload on a 3-1 pitch to lead off the seventh inning.
Earlier in that at-bat, Robertson hooked a moonshot just foul of the pole in left field. Fans were screaming at the umpire that the ball was fair, but Robertson eventually gave them what they wanted.
Three pitches after his majestic foul ball, Robertson got a pitch to drive from A&M right-hander Landon Miner and demolished it, clearing the left-field bleachers for his second home run of the year and giving LSU a 5-2 lead.
Greg Deichmann followed with a lesson in parabolic flight. According to the TrackMan ball tracking system used at LSU, Deichmann’s ninth home run of the season left his bat at a 46-degree angle. It hung in the air for approximately eight seconds before settling into the right-field bleachers, giving LSU a 6-2 lead.
“It’s really not fair that he can mis-hit a ball that much and still hit a home run,” Robertson said. “If anybody else in the country mis-hits it like he did there, it’s a routine fly ball. He still has enough power and enough strength … to get it out. Some of the balls he hits, they make you feel bad about yourself.”
The seven runs scored by LSU roughly matched its season per-game scoring average, but considering the lineup’s struggles lately, it felt like a major breakthrough.
“Statistics sometimes can be misleading,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “It doesn’t feel like we’re averaging seven runs a game the way the last week has gone.”
It was also more than enough, considering the way Poché (6-1) pitched.
The Aggies (18-10, 2-6) threatened in almost every inning against Poché, but the southpaw danced out of danger almost every time. He stranded seven runners through his first five innings, five of whom were in scoring position.
“He’s amazing,” Mainieri said. “I wouldn’t trade him for anybody. But he makes the coaches a little bit nervous on occasion. He made so many clutch pitches tonight, and we were able to get out of jams all night.”
The only time Texas A&M was able to get to Poché was in the seventh inning, when No. 9 hitter Walker Pennington tagged him for a two-run homer to left field.
Poché plunked the next batter he faced, prompting a visit from Mainieri. Poché did not hand the ball over, though.
Poché retired the next three batters to get out of the jam and end the inning. He scattered eight hits and struck out six in seven strong innings.
“There are very few kids that you have such faith in their honesty in what they feel,” Mainieri said. “When I went out there, I just asked him, ‘Do you have anything left? How do you feel?’ He said, ‘I feel good; I feel good.’ … He went out there and got the job done. That’s what you call clutch pitching.”
Hunter Newman, making his first appearance since March 12, struck out the side in the eighth.
LSU will go for the series win Saturday at 2:30 p.m., and it’ll do so with confidence on its side.
“When you’re kind of licking your wounds after losing a couple in a row, your confidence just takes a little bit of a hit,” Mainieri said. “I said to the guys when we grouped up after the game, ‘Wow, you guys can hit, contrary to what a lot of people think.’ It was nice to get some hits, score some runs and have some fun running the bases.
“Hopefully the guys will loosen up, go out there tomorrow and play their best game.”