NATCHITOCHES — Alex Bregman scooped up the groundball and planted his foot into second base.
Whew. Jared Poché had escaped his first real jam as a college pitcher.
Poché passed his first road test, but it was far from perfect.
The true freshman allowed five hits, struck out four and walked two and Tyler Moore crushed a two-run homer as LSU beat Northwestern State 8-1 on Thursday afternoon at Brown-Stroud Field.
“I think Jared can pitch a lot better than that, but, like I said, he did the job,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “Pitched in the clutch situations. The kid’s a winner. He’s a gamer.”
Did he win a job in the Southeastern Conference weekend rotation?
Mainieri plans to delay his decision on that until after this weekend’s three-game home series against Purude.
Poché struggled at times in one of his last auditions in the competition for one of the two weekend spots behind ace Aaron Nola.
He had to work out of a second-inning bases-loaded jam with one out. He got a strikeout and that groundout to Bregman to end the frame.
Bregman’s foot hit second and Poché slowly walked off the mound, his eyes and head toward the ground.
He allowed back-to-back singles and a walk in the fourth, and he threw a whopping 95 pitches in his five frames.
“It definitely wasn’t my best outing,” said Poché, a Lutcher native who many expect to be the Tigers’ No. 2 or No. 3 weekend guy. “Didn’t have my curveball, couldn’t command my fastball as well as I’d like to.”
The Tigers (11-2) took advantage of a host of Demons’ miscues on a chilly Thursday outing, a game originally scheduled for Tuesday but pushed back because of cold weather.
LSU took a 4-0 lead after four innings on just two hits. Northwestern State (6-5) walked four batters, hit another, had a balk, threw two wild pitches and committed an error in the first four frames.
In the sixth inning, Christian Ibarra hit a double and Andrew Stevenson’s single extended his hitting streak to 11 games and brought in Ibarra.
Moore then smashed a two-run shot over the right field wall, his first homer of the season.
“He threw a first-pitch fastball that almost hit me,” Moore said. “Was kind of looking for the same thing. Ran it over the middle of the plate. Did what I could with it.”
It soared over the green wall in right field, the offensive highlight of the Tigers’ nine-hit performance.
Bregman kept alive two streaks with a ninth-inning single. He’s hit safely in five games and has reached base in each of LSU’s 13 games this season.
Stevenson went 2 for 3 to continue his stunning start to 2014. Last year’s No. 9 hitter, Stevenson is hitting .432. And he enjoys the maddening schedule LSU is currently not yet halfway through.
Thursday’s game was the second of five straight.
“I love it. No practice,” said a smiling Stevenson. “Just go out and play every day.”
It’s unclear if Poché did enough to enter the conference weekend rotation, a competition between him, junior college transfer Kyle Bouman and junior Cody Glenn.
There’s a good chance, though, that the rookie will be starting a game next weekend against Vanderbilt, LSU’s top-10 opponent to open SEC play.
“We’ll decide what we’ll do after this weekend’s over,” Mainieri said.
Poché will pitch at least two innings against Nicholls State on Tuesday, likely readying him to start against the Commodores.
Meanwhile, Bouman and Glenn get at least another crack at a start before LSU heads to Nashville.
Bouman is set to pitch Saturday and Glenn Sunday. Nola will start Friday to begin the three-game weekend series against the Boilermakers (1-7).
LSU’s bullpen continued its recovery from Sunday’s collapse in an 8-7 loss to Yale.
Alden Cartwright, a Runnels High grad, pitched two innings of scoreless relief, striking out a batter and allowing a hit. Hunter Devall, who allowed two runs in the loss to Yale, pitched a shutout over the final two frames.
The focus, though, was squarely on Poché. Despite the bumps, he got the win.
“He always does good, doesn’t matter if he’s having a bad outing,” Cartwright said of Poché, his childhood friend. “He’s going to come out and produce for his team.”