Freshmen boost LSU past Texas Southern

Jake Fraley, Jared Poché and Parker Bugg all have something in common.

The trio led LSU to a tighter-than-expected 4-1 victory over Texas Southern on Sunday at Alex Box Stadium.

Oh, and they’re all true freshmen.

“Told you all along, I liked our class,” coach Paul Mainieri said.

Two weeks into the 2014 season, a theme has emerged with this LSU team: This group of freshmen ain’t bad.

Poché struck out seven in seven innings, Fraley hit a three-run homer, and Bugg pulled LSU out of a shaky eighth inning to send the Tigers to a 7-0 start.

Mainieri rested three starters against a Texas Southern team that has won just two of eight games this season.

LSU struggled at the plate — it had four hits — and shortstop Alex Bregman committed two errors and didn’t have a hit for the first time since last year.

It all led to some unexpected drama in the eighth inning.

To the rescue came a freshman. Bugg, a 6-foot-6 California native, cleaned up a mess made by fellow reliever Brady Domangue.

Domangue hit a batter, allowed a single and was yanked after throwing just three pitches. Bugg retired the next three batters, striking out the final two to prompt a roar from the 2,825 in Alex Box Stadium who braved the rainy conditions.

Poché, a freshman who led Lutcher High to the state title last season, got his second win of the season. He allowed four hits and shut out TSU over the first six innings.

And Fraley? He had a soaring, three-run homer in the fourth for the eventual winning runs. He smacked a 2-2, high fastball over the right-field wall to bring in Christian Ibarra and Kade Scivicque.

Just freshmen doing their thing.

“This group, we’ve jelled from Day One,” Poché said. “Love those guys. They’ve been successful their entire life. They’re bringing it to the next level.”

LSU opened the season with seven straight wins for the first time in three years, and the Tigers have showed off a freshman signing class that ranked in the top 10.

It hasn’t just been the trio from Sunday night.

LSU’s three freshman pitchers — Bugg, Poché and Alden Cartwright — have combined to throw 18 innings. They’ve struck out 18 and allowed 10 hits and two runs. They haven’t walked a batter.

At the plate, the top four rookies have combined for a .296 average and nine RBIs.

Second baseman Kramer Robertson and his defensive gems are pushing for an everyday role, and Fraley’s a contender in the outfield.

Poché appears to be a favorite to land an SEC weekend starting spot, and Bugg might be LSU’s top reliever.

“It’s full of a lot of guys who compete,” said Bregman, a sophomore. “I think they’re a polished class, and I think we’re going to expect a lot from them this year.”

They’ve all pulled together to help this squad remain undefeated and likely move into the No. 1 spot in a couple of polls Monday.

Still, seven games through a 50-plus-game season, the Tigers have their problems.

The rap sheet includes an uncertain cleanup spot, some unusual errors from their star shortstop and a reliever, Domangue, who has caused some unnecessary theater in two appearances.

And the Tigers continue to search for a cleanup hitter. LSU has used four players at the No. 4 spot in the lineup, and they’re are a combined 6-for-29 (.207). Jared Foster, Conner Hale, Chris Chinea and Ibarra all have started there.

In the field, LSU has committed five errors through seven games. Four have come from Bregman, all on throws to first. Three were high, and one was wide of the bag.

“I need to make those plays in the future,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. I’m going to fix it.”

And then there’s Domangue, who starred at LSU-Eunice the past two seasons. He has struggled in two appearances.

Domangue lasted just three pitches Sunday. In his first appearances last Saturday, he walked the bases loaded and allowed three runs.

“Just disappointing when he hits the guy with the first pitch,” Mainieri said Sunday. “He looked so good in practice. … Tough break for the kid. I hated taking him out. My loyalty is to the whole team as a group.”

That includes the freshmen, an impressive crew seeing a lot of playing time.

“It’d be very easy for me to play the nine guys I think we could win every game with,” Mainieri said. “But how do kids grow if you are afraid to run them out there?”

Groundballs

LSU has won 27 straight nonconference games at home and 24 in a row over SWAC schools. … Sunday’s game was set to start at 3 p.m. but was delayed to 5 because of thunderstorms. ... LSU hosts Louisiana-Lafayette at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.