LSU’s talented freshman class got its opportunity to shine Wednesday night, and shine it did.
Paul Mainieri plugged six freshmen into the starting lineup, and those six accounted for seven hits, four runs driven in and the win as southpaw Jared Poche posted a pair of zeros in his final tuneup for SEC play.
Chilly temperatures, howling winds and an outmanned opponent lessened the attendance, but Mainieri oozed enthusiasm following his team’s 8-0 win over Southern.
“Last night after we finished the game with Nicholls St., I mapped out the lineup for (Wednesday), and I could hardly sleep,” Mainieri said. “I was so excited to throw those guys out there.”
Over the course of 18 games Mainieri has given the freshmen at bats here and there, but no freshman has been able to stay as consistently hot as Jake Fraley. The centerfielder collected two more hits Wednesday night, a single and a double, drove in a pair of runs and scored another.
Fraley is now hitting .600 in his short career and has proven to be as athletic a player as the Tigers have on the roster.
“What can you say about Jake Fraley?” Mainieri said. “My goodness, every time we give him as chance now he hits the ball hard and is doing some good things…this is the kind of guy we saw when we recruited him, and he looks good in practice every day. He looks like a guy with a really good future here at LSU.”
And while Fraley may have to wait his turn in a crowded outfield, Poche has already earned a spot in the SEC rotation. In his final outing prior to taking the mound Sunday in Nashville, Poche worked a pair of shutout innings, allowing three hits but making the big pitch when he needed it just as he did last week at Northwestern St.
With a runner on third and one out in the Southern first, Poche induced a weak ground ball to short from D.J. Wallace to retire the side.
A pair of singles to lead off the second created more problems for Poche, but he punched Robinson Mateo out and got a pair of ground balls to evade the jam and finish his evening.
Sticking with the theme of the night, Poche handed the ball to fellow freshman Alden Cartwright who cruised through his two innings of work, striking out four Jaguars.
“We weren’t sure how good (Cartwright) was gonna be when we recruited him,” Mainieri said. “He didn’t have ridiculously good numbers in high school or anything, but you look up at that pitch speed and he’s throwing 88 miles an hour. Let me tell you one thing about Cartwright, he’s absolutely fearless. He thinks he’s good.”
Three veterans followed Cartwright on the hill, combining to work the final five innings of shutout ball.
Henri Faucheux and Hunter Devall dealt a pair of innings each, and Nate Fury toiled a perfect ninth to preserve LSU’s seventh shutout in 18 games.
Freshman Jarret DeHart laced an RBI double down the right field line in the first and blasted a triple to the opposite field in the seventh. Danny Zardon, another talented freshman, reached four times and scored a pair of runs in the ninth spot in the order.
The Tigers head to Vanderbilt to open SEC play Friday night.