HOOVER, Ala. — Sean McMullen ripped off his helmet and took a large hop onto home plate.
LSU took its own leap Sunday — right into the NCAA tournament national seed conversation.
McMullen’s two-run homer in the eighth inning broke a scoreless tie, and the Tigers got their nation-leading 17th shutout of the season in a 2-0 win over top-seeded Florida at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, winning the program’s 11th Southeastern Conference tournament title.
LSU (44-14-1) capped a 4-0 run at this event and continued its sizzling late-season run, a scorching streak that has coach Paul Mainieri’s team playing its best as NCAA postseason play arrives.
“We’re smellin’ it,” Mainieri said. “We’re feeling good about ourselves.”
The Tigers have won eight straight, many of them in blowout fashion, and they claimed their fifth SEC tournament title in the past seven years.
LSU first baseman/catcher Tyler Moore was named tournament MVP, and six more Tigers made the team.
“This weekend was a tell-tale sign about our team’s resilience,” shortstop Alex Bregman said. “We put up 10 runs a game and were blowing people out, and then all of sudden we had no runs and it seemed like things had turned on us. And then Sean McMullen clutched up and won it for us. It makes you proud to be a part of a team like that, and we’re just getting started.”
Sunday’s win came against a Gators team that entered the game with the projected No. 1 RPI in the nation. LSU began the week on the bubble of hosting an NCAA regional, but the Tigers’ surge has pushed them into talk of being one of the top eight national seeds in the event. Those teams host super regionals if they advance through regional play.
The Tigers will host one of 16 four-team regionals next weekend, the NCAA announced Sunday. The full field, including the eight national seeds, will be revealed at 11 a.m. Monday (ESPNU).
“It’s hard for me to believe we don’t deserve (a national seed),” Mainieri said, “but I’ll be all right with whatever the committee decides.”
Starter Alden Cartwright worked out of a host of jams, throwing a one-hitter through four innings, and the Tigers overcame a light-hitting day (six hits) with McMullen’s long ball.
The designated hitter smashed the homer just hours after suffering a burst duct in his mouth Sunday morning. Mainieri wasn’t even sure McMullen could play Sunday until batting practice two hours before the game.
“Had a problem in his mouth with a blocked duct,” Mainieri said. “It burst, and he had to see a doctor this morning. He’s on antibiotics. I was a little concerned he might not get to play. He said he could do it. He ran around and took BP and was able to make it to the starting gate and hit the home run.”
McMullen hit his two-out, full-count rocket over the right-field wall, pummeling a slider from Florida reliever Ryan Harris. He raced around the bases, pulled up at home plate, whipped off his helmet and leaped onto the dish.
“I wasn’t even worried about how fast I was running,” McMullen said. “I wanted to be with my team in the dugout celebrating it.”
McMullen followed his sixth home run of the season by chest-bumping and shoving teammates in a mad celebration. He entered the dugout and gave Mainieri a giant hug as the more than 4,000 LSU fans in attendance rained down cheers.
“I wanted to make sure that I looked at the crowd, and to see them so fired up was unbelievable,” he said. “Looking in the dugout, just seeing my hit is what exploded the place — it was very surreal.”
It was LSU’s sixth home run in four games at Hoover Met. It scored freshman Jake Fraley, who kept the inning alive with a single.
Kurt McCune got the save, pitching a hitless final two innings. He walked the leadoff batter in the ninth before Richie Martin hit into a double play, LSU’s third twin killing of the game. Harris Bader grounded out to first base for the final out, sparking a dogpile celebration near the mound.
The Tigers have yet another title under Mainieri: The coach is now 22-4 at the SEC tournament. His teams have won five times in their past six trips to the suburb just south of Birmingham.
Some LSU players took to Twitter on Sunday evening, posting celebratory messages and referring to the SEC tournament with the hashtag “#LSUInvitational.”
“This never gets old,” Mainieri said. “We just love coming to Hoover.”
McMullen’s homer overshadowed other aspects in a well-played title game between No. 3 seed LSU and the regular-season champion Gators (40-21).
LSU got key defensive plays from Bregman, and a slew of pitchers hurled the two-hit shutout. Nate Fury, Zac Person and McCune combined to silence a Florida team that swept LSU in Gainesville back in March.
It was a gutsy start by Cartwright, a freshman from Runnels. He walked the leadoff batter in the second, third and fourth but escaped those jams.
The hero, though, was McMullen, a senior designated hitter from Metairie.
“When I came up to bat, I realized it was going to be my last at-bat in this stadium,” he said. “I wasn’t feeling any pressure at all.”
LSU played like that all week. The Tigers won their four games at the SEC tournament by a 31-4 margin, and they’ve won eight straight by a combined 87-8.
It’s a run that reminds Mainieri of the 2008 team’s 23-game winning streak. That squad started the SEC season 6-11-1 before that late-season roll led to a national seed and then a trip to Omaha.
The Tigers are five wins away from doing the same.
“We’ve been here before,” Mainieri said. “Hopefully we’ll have the same kind of results. It’s a little bit surreal.”