Defensive gem mixes with LSU starter Jared Poché’s six-inning shutout for 6-0 series-opening win _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU starting pitcher Jared Poche' (16) pitches against Sacramento State, Friday, February 26, 2016, LSU's Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field in Baton Rouge, La.

Jared Poché started his Friday with a simple text to mom.

“Happy Bday,” it read, “29 never looked so good.”

Tessa Poché’s birthday happened to fall on her son’s second start of the 2016 season and 36th start of his LSU pitching career. What better way to spend a birth date than munching on a hamburger at a chilly Alex Box Stadium?

The Pochés are on Year 3 of this — making the 45-minute haul from little Lutcher to the big city of Baton Rouge to watch Jared throw for the Tigers.

It might be the last year.

The Pochés don’t dance around the issue: Jared, a junior, is draft-eligible this year. Coach Paul Mainieri didn’t bury the truth earlier this month, either, saying Poché is likely playing his final collegiate season for the Tigers.

Poché entered the season as the 20th-best college pitching prospect, according to Baseball America. He’s likely to land in the top 10 rounds of June’s Major League Baseball Draft — where his selection value could be as high as a half-million dollars.

“Three years,” Jerry Poché said. “It’s flown by.”

It feels the same way to Jared.

"It’s always been a dream of mine to play for LSU. I do my best not to let time fly by too fast," he said. "Take a deep breath here or there. It’s been a fun ride for me and hopefully we’ll finish it off strong."

On a chilly Friday night against Sacramento State, Jerry’s son did his best impersonation of himself — a steady, solid, grinding lefty who pitched around two hits, struck out eight, gave just three free passes (hit batters and walks) and allowed no runs.

The Lutcher native has a career ERA of less than 3.00 and has a record of 19-5 after picking up the victory in LSU's 6-0 win.

Those aren’t the best numbers. Just one pitcher in Mainieri’s 10 years began his freshman season as a starter and held that position for his first three years at the school: Aaron Nola.

Poché is on pace to be the second. Did you expect that, Dad?

“No,” a smiling Jerry said about 30 minutes before Poché’s start Friday night, “not at all.”

Jared has always been the No. 2 — to Nola as a freshman in 2014 and All-American Alex Lange last season and this year — but that’s no matter.

A three-year starter at LSU? He has exceeded even his family’s expectations.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Jerry said. “I knew he had the ability. I just hoped he would show his ability to the coaches.”

That happened early. He started LSU’s third game of his freshman season in 2014, a Sunday nod against Grambling, and he quickly overtook Kyle Bouman as the Tigers’ No. 2 weekend starter behind Nola.

The Pochés are more relaxed these days, Tessa said.

With each year, they have felt less and less stress on days their son pitches. On Friday night, they sat in their two end-of-the-row seats in Section 206, reserved for players’ families.

Jerry does admit to sending a text to his son each day of a start.

“I wish him ‘Great luck,’ ” Jerry said. “Not good luck.”

Jerry and Tessa don’t have any other traditions, rituals or superstitions, but Jared does. He spends days in which he starts watching movies all day, his girlfriend, seated next to Tessa, says.

One of Jared’s four brothers — he’s the third-oldest — was on hand Friday. Eighth-grader Jared first learned the curveball he now uses from that brother, Corey, the oldest of the Poché gang.

“He taught him that curveball,” Jerry said.

Jared struck out at least one batter Friday with that breaking pitch before his start ended after a 1-2-3 sixth inning and a final pitch count of 95.

Jerry and Tessa watched in the stands, smiling, knowing that, maybe, this is the last year of this.

“It can be very short-lived,” Jerry said.