Cole Freeman stood at third base, his arm hanging down toward his leg in celebration as his teammates roared in jubilation across the diamond.
Seconds earlier, he rifled a triple so deep into the right field corner that Mike Papierski — all 210 pounds of him — lumbered from first base to home plate as LSU’s sixth run without a slide.
The dugout reacted with an expected incredulity, not that a man without speed sprinted for an extended period of time, but that the offense coaches and players swore was “so close” finally reached its crescendo against the most powerful staff the Southeastern Conference submits to its hitters.
“I heard multiple position players say before this game ‘Something feels right tonight,’ ” shortstop Kramer Robertson said.
Vanderbilt starter Jordan Sheffield, who employs a mid-90s fastball to accompany an 85 mph breaking pitch, failed to pitch into the fourth inning. The right-hander who had permitted just 11 earned runs in seven starts preceding this one allowed seven in the third inning, when 11 LSU hitters came to the plate and a 13-4 win was cemented.
After waving haplessly at Sheffield’s 97 mph fastball near his eyes in the first to end a three-pitch strikeout, Greg Deichmann creamed three hits in his next three at-bats, his first an RBI double in the third off the center field wall, beginning an assault on the Vanderbilt ace who lost early command of his fastball and never recuperated.
The onslaught followed a revival on the Plains, where LSU rebounded from a four-game stretch where it scored six runs to take two of three from Auburn while crossing the plate 23 times.
“When you’ve got a bunch of inexperienced players, confidence is a very fragile thing,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “Second game at Auburn, I think the guys started to realize we do have the talent to do this. … Tonight, we just came through with a lot of big swings. Guys played great. I’m just so happy for them.”
Robertson followed Deichmann’s double with a two-RBI single up the middle and Beau Jordan, who finished a triple short of the cycle, belted a two-run home run two batters later, prolonging Sheffield’s final inning in which he threw 47 of his 74 total pitches.
Antoine Duplantis, batting for a second time in the inning, laced a single to score LSU’s ninth run and finally cued Commodore coach Tim Corbin to send relievers to his bullpen, prompting an acerbic Alex Box Stadium cheer from the paid crowd of 10,366.
The inning ended with a 9-0 LSU advantage. Vanderbilt hadn’t surrendered more than eight runs in a game all season.
Perhaps overshadowed on an offensive outburst, Tigers starter Jared Poché was masterful on four days rest, scattering four hits across seven shutout innings with a career-high tying eight strikeouts.
“That was the best I’ve ever seen him, no doubt,” said Robertson, who quashed one of Poche’s few threats with a diving stop in the hole to strand a runner in scoring position in the second inning.
Success, as Mainieri surmised Wednesday, was predicated on retiring Vanderbilt’s leadoff hitters to limit its aggressive base running.
Utilizing his off-speed pitches early in counts, Poché fulfilled the duty, setting down the first batter in six of his seven innings. He did not allow a runner to third base and got all six of his outs in the fifth and sixth innings via strikeout.
“We wanted to meet that challenge and show everyone we’re pretty good as well,” Poché said. “I had pretty much everything working. Fastball, curveball, change-up, the only thing I didn’t have, I didn’t have a put-away breaking ball tonight. But I was able to throw it for a strike when I wanted.”
He left to a standing ovation after the seventh inning and his starting mates soon followed, Mainieri littering his late-inning lineup card with a bevy of backups.
Bryce Jordan was one, rocketing a grounder that flummoxed Vanderbilt third baseman Will Toffey with two Tigers on base in the eighth inning of a 10-run game.
The ball rolled into the Vanderbilt bullpen, where a crew of Commodore outfielders thought erroneously it was out of play.
Jordan, all of 212 pounds, scampered around the bases for a three-run error and into the dugout for a 13-0 lead on a team that entered Alex Box Stadium with a 2.77 team ERA and left with just four runs scored on LSU’s ninth-inning backups.
“I think it’s a statement,” Robertson said. “We’ve proved now that we can do it and we’re going to continue to do it.”