BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — LSU pitcher Jared Poche knows he isn't going to overpower anyone, so he relies on his ability to control his pitches — and his emotions — to record outs at crucial moments.
His latest exhibition of clutch pitching left Louisiana-Lafayette frustrated by all the runners they left in scoring position, gave the Tigers a reprieve from their own early inning struggles at the plate, and ultimately carried LSU to a 17th berth in the College World Series.
Poche struck out seven and did not allow a run until the eighth inning, Kade Scivicque broke up a scoreless tie with a home run in the seventh, and LSU beat the Ragin' Cajuns 6-3 on Sunday night to win the Baton Rouge super regional in a two-game sweep.
"I think that's just my competitive nature coming out in me," Poche said of the five runners he stranded in scoring position in the first six innings. "I don't have the most dominant pitches, so I just kind of gut up and just execute."
Shortstop Alex Bregman, LSU's top pro prospect, ended an 0-for-15 slump with a two-out, two-run single in the eighth, and Conner Hale added a two-run triple as the Tigers (53-10) remained unbeaten in the NCAA Tournament.
"We're going to be very confident in Omaha," Bregman said. "We deserve to be there."
Poche (9-1), a sophomore lefty, allowed five hits and walked one before he was relieved after allowing his only run.
"He just rose up and made some really big pitches at key times, but that's his M.O.," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "When he gets in jams, he just has that innate ability to come up with the big pitch when he needs it and he did that all night tonight."
Louisiana-Lafayette starter Gunner Leger (6-5) appeared to be in complete control through 7 1/3 innings, having thrown only 70 pitches before Scivicque crushed a cut fastball over the left-field bleachers.
"You make one bad pitch and that guy hits it 400 feet," lamented Leger, a freshman lefty. "That changes the complexion of the game right there."
Bregman's first hit of the NCAA Tournament gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead, and Hale's triple to right off of reliever Dylan Moore made it 5-0.
Louisiana-Lafayette, which had used a five-run, ninth-inning rally to pull out its NCAA regional opener nine days earlier, entered the ninth down 6-1 and scored twice before LSU reliever Parker Bugg induced Blake Trahan's game-ending pop-up to first. That sent LSU players streaming onto the field in celebration as they received what has become a fairly familiar send-off to Omaha from jubilant fans packing the stadium.
Leger was showing masterful control through the first six innings, when he allowed only just two hits on 67 pitches with no walks.
He also had help in the field, particularly from center fielder Kyle Clement, who made consecutive diving catches in left-center in the fourth inning, robbing Bregman of what would have been his first hit of the tournament on the second one. But the good contact Bregman made on that at-bat turned out to be a harbinger of more good swings to come when he stepped to the plate with runners on second and third and two-out in the eighth.
Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said he made the call not to walk the bases loaded and instead pitch to Bregman, who is expected to be a top-five overall pick in Monday's Major League Baseball draft.
"I saw what Gunner had done with him the whole game and felt he was my guy," Robichaux said. "He hit a two-hopper back up the middle. I stuck with my freshman because I believe in him."
Louisiana-Lafayette was tantalizingly close to scoring the first runs of the game in the bottom of the sixth when the Cajuns had runners on first and second and Robichaux called a double-steal. It nearly worked, but the pitch was fouled off. Shortly afterward, Tyler Girouard lined out and Joe Robbins was doubled off at second to end that threat.
"We just never could get a timely hit," Robichaux said. "Credit Poche for that. When he had to make big pitches, he made them."
NOTES: Mainieri had the initials LB written on his purple LSU hat. He said he did it after reading an email Sunday morning from a close friend of Staff Sgt. Lance Bergeron, a Louisiana native and National Guardsman who died recently in a helicopter training flight in the Florida panhandle. Mainieri said he'd give the cap to Bergeron's widow. "It just really brought everything into perspective for me," Mainieri said. "I wasn't nervous at all about the game today. I just told the kids, just forget about what the stakes are, let's just go out and play and have fun."