LSU sophomore southpaw Jared Poché failed to conquer Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi, last season.
The task wasn’t any easier the second time around in a 6-4 LSU victory at Alex Box Stadium on Friday night.
It was an eerily similar matchup for the second consecutive season. Ole Miss (9-8, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) lined up junior left-hander Christian Trent, who was a member of LSU’s club back in 2012, against Poché. On April 18, 2014, Trent came out victorious, tossing seven innings of one-run baseball.
Neither the LSU (17-1, 1-0 SEC) offense nor Poché planned on letting that happen again.
For four innings, Poché was lights-out, allowing no runs and striking out five.
His mind wasn’t focused on trying to out-duel Trent. He just wanted to make outs.
“It’s not as much going against Trent,” Poché said. “I’ve never faced Trent. I’ve been facing their hitters.”
But in the top of the fifth, Poché began to stumble. The sophomore allowed three hits and two runs in the frame. It would be his final inning as LSU coach Paul Mainieri turned to the bullpen after Poché allowed a leadoff single in the top of the sixth.
Fortunately for the Tigers starter, LSU’s offense wasn’t looking to get shut down by Trent for the second time in two seasons.
The Tigers’ scoring began when they had a little luck fall their way in the bottom of the third inning.
Well, it actually fell into right field.
After a leadoff infield single to second base by junior center fielder Andrew Stevenson, senior Jared Foster came to the plate looking to give LSU early life. Foster, who found himself in the lineup as the starting second baseman for the second consecutive contest, did just that.
On a 2-0 count, Foster popped a ball into shallow right field. Ole Miss freshman second baseman Tate Blackman initially had a read on the shallow fly. That is, until he watched the ball fall just out of his glove.
Stevenson proceeded to steal third base, and he later came around to score on a Danny Zardon double play ball to shortstop.
Two innings later, it was senior third baseman Conner Hale’s turn to pick up his first SEC RBI of the new year.
Back on Wednesday, Hale lost his 16-game hitting streak after an 0-for-4 performance at the plate against McNeese State. It only took one contest for him to begin a new one.
“I put that behind me,” Hale said. “It was already over with, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I was coming out here today just trying to start a new one.”
He had already picked up his first hit of the contest against Ole Miss in the bottom of the second after lacing a single into center field, but he decided to do one better in his second at-bat. With juniors Mark Laird and Alex Bregman standing on third and second base, Hale flared a ball just inside the right field foul line, resulting in a double and two RBIs to give LSU the 3-0 lead.
Hale finished with three hits, matching his career-high.
Stevenson later grounded an RBI single to center to increase the Tigers’ lead to four runs. And then Bregman thrust the dagger into Ole Miss’ hopes in the bottom of the sixth.
On a 1-0 count, Bregman launched his fourth home run of the season over the left-center wall, putting the score out of reach for the visiting Rebels.
LSU redshirt freshman closer Jesse Stallings made sure the Tigers started off conference play with a winning record, retiring three of four batters in the ninth to secure his eighth save of the season.
“I think playing in close ball games prepare you for the future,” Bregman said. “If you want to win the SEC, if you want to win the West or if you just want to win in college baseball, you have to be able to win the one- and two-run games. This is the perfect way we drew up starting SEC play.”