HOUSTON — Jared Poché waited nine long months to get a shot at Houston.
He slugged ’em right in the mouth.
Poché threw 7.2 innings of four-hit ball, retiring 15 of his final 16 batters, and LSU beat the Cougars 4-2 on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, opening a trip to the Houston College Classic with a rousing, revenge-soaked win.
Conner Hale hit a two-run home run, and shortstop Alex Bregman flashed some big league defense as the Tigers (13-1) won a 10th straight game over a familiar foe.
Houston (8-6) won the Baton Rouge Regional last year, beating the Tigers in back-to-back games. The Cougars became just the third non-LSU team to win a regional at Alex Box Stadion. Poché, on two days’ rest last year, didn’t get to pitch against Houston in a decisive final game last June — a 12-2 Houston win.
He floored them Friday night with an estimated 5,000 LSU purple-clad LSU fans watching at the home of the Houston Astros. He turned a rough start into a dazzling finish.
“(Pitching coach Alan Dunn) always says you’re not going to have your best stuff every time,” said Poché, who stranded a runner at third in the first inning and threw a whopping 57 pitches through the first three frames. “You’ve just got to go out there and battle. Eventually it’s going to start working. It started working about the fourth, fifith inning.”
Oh, didn’t it. He retired seven straight batters starting with the final one in the third inning, and he retired eight straight more after a solo home run in the sixth.
“Poche is a grinder, but he is one of those guys you’ve got to believe in,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “He’s going to get in some jams, but he never packs the tent or gives up. He just keeps battling and rises up and makes a good pitch when he needs to.”
Poché (4-0) struck out three, walked two and tossed 104 pitches, exiting the game to a rousing applause in the eighth inning. Reliever Alden Carwright struck out the final batter in the eighth inning, pumping his fist and roaring as he walked off the mound.
It was revenge for him, indeed.
Cartwright, a Baton Rouge native, started that decisive game against Houston last year, allowing two runs and lasting just three batters.
“Everybody’s going to say that,” Cartwright said after the game. “For me, when I went out there, I was saving Poché. I was getting him out of that inning, getting to Stallings.”
Redshirt freshman Jesse Stallings got his sixth save, pitching a perfect ninth inning, and the Tigers raced onto the field to celebrate a victory in the nightcap of this six-team event in downtown Houston.
LSU, the home team, scored three runs in the first inning off of a familiar face. Houston pitcher Andrew Lantrip - who threw all eight innings Friday - started the decisive game in last year’s Baton Rouge Regional.
The Tigers had three straight two-out hits in the inning — Bregman doubled, Chinea singled and Hale hit a two-run homer.
Hale scored again in the fourth, leading off with a single and eventually coming home on an error from Houston’s shortstop.
LSU’s woes at third base reared their head in the third inning. Hale, moved to third for the struggling Danny Zardon, missed on a hard line drive, but he tried to fire the ball to first. It skidded past Zardon to bring home a run. Jacob Campbell closed the gap to 4-2 with a leadoff solo home run in the sixth.
It was the only hiccup from Poché in his final five frames.
“Awesome,” Cartwright said describing Poché’ stint. “He didn’t have his stuff early on, but he battled. That was huge for us. Save our bullpen for the rest of the weekend.”
Poché recovered from a rough opening frame — and opening batter.
Houston’s leadoff batter, Kyle Survance, took Poché’s fourth pitcher to deep right-center, splitting right fielder Mark Laird and centerfielder Andrew Stevenson. The ball bounced at the foot of the wall and hopped over for a double.
Survance moved to third on a sacrifice bunt before Poché worked his magic. The sophomore struck out Campbell and induced a deep flyout from cleanup hitter Chris Iriart to end the inning, stranding Survance at third.
It had the pro-LSU crowd booming from the start.
LSU fans outnumbered those from Houston by about 10-1 in the Cougars’ hometown. It’s an expected result.
Houston is the largest non-Louisiana LSU alumni base in the nation. That’s something not lost on the program. The LSU football team opened last season by playing Wisconsin in Houston’s NRG Stadium, and the squad is scheduled to play BYU at NRG Stadium in 2017.
Like NRG, Minute Maid Park includes a retractable roof. The roof, open for the first two games of the day, was closed just before first pitch of LSU’s game as temperatures dipped into the 40s.
The stadium is not heated. Temperatures hovered about 50 degrees inside the 40,000-seat stadium
Bregman looked quite comfortable in the big league ballpark. Bregman amassed a game’s worth of highlights.
He had a double, stole third base and scored a run in the first frame before showing off his defensive prowess in the second. He laid out for a line drive in the short-third base gap and then turned a double play by scooping a hard-hit ball, stepping on second and tossing to first in plenty of time.
“I was pumped up,” Bregman said. “Any time you get to play in this atmosphere with the best teammates in the country, you’re going to be fired up. Our whole team was fired up to start the game.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.