HOOVER, Ala. — A falling pop fly bounced off Christian Ibarra’s forehead and ricocheted into the air. On the run, LSU shortstop Alex Bregman caught the rebound before it hit the dirt.
For the Tigers these days, life is good.
Good fortune. Big hitting. Snazzy defending. Super pitching.
Coach Paul Mainieri’s group continued to play its best baseball of the season Saturday afternoon in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals.
The Tigers rolled Arkansas 11-1 in a run-rule victory at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, winning a seventh straight game and advancing to the program’s 17th SEC tournament title bout.
LSU (43-14-1) had 16 hits, including three home runs, against an Arkansas team playing its fifth game in five days, and starter Kyle Bouman took a no-hitter into the sixth, helping move LSU closer to adding to its league-leading 10 tournament championships.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Mainieri, who is 21-4 at this event and has led LSU to four titles in the previous six years. “I love playing for championships at this place. ... There’s something about Hoover that brings the best out of our kids.”
LSU, the tournament’s No. 3 seed, meets No. 1 seed Florida (40-20) at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in the title game, set for an ESPN2 telecast.
Win or lose, the Tigers likely have secured their 22nd NCAA regional host bid next weekend, and some might argue that the hot-streaking team deserves a top-eight national seed. Regional host sites are scheduled to be announced at 8 p.m. Sunday on NCAA.com.
The full field — including the top eight seeds — will be revealed at 11 a.m. Monday on ESPNU.
Alden Cartwright, a freshman out of Runnels, will start against the Gators. LSU is likely to use multiple pitchers in a piecemeal plan on the mound.
Sunday is another opportunity to continue a dominant run that began in a history-making 27-0 rout of Northwestern State on May 13.
LSU used the tournament’s mercy rule — up 10 through seven innings — for the second time in three games. The Tigers beat Vanderbilt 11-1 in seven innings to open the tournament Wednesday. Saturday’s game went eight innings.
Mainieri’s club became the first team since 2006 to win two games via the run rule at the same SEC tournament, another shining accomplishment during this wild 12-day span.
LSU has scored at least seven runs and had double-digit hits for the seventh straight game during the outburst. The Tigers have had at least 15 hits four times in that streak.
They have won those games by a combined 85-8 margin, one of the most dominant streaks in the past decade for the tradition-rich program.
Afterward, a group of LSU players attempted to describe and explain the hot streak.
“It’s fun,” first baseman Tyler Moore said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced anything like this with any team, much less at the highest level of college baseball.”
“It’s amazing,” catcher Kade Scivicque said. “Everything’s going our way.”
Including that pop fly in the third inning. Ibarra lost the ball in an overcast sky, and it hit off his forehead.
Bregman was there to snatch it for the out, a play that’ll be on highlight reels all weekend.
“Christian Ibarra inspired us to this victory, sacrificing his body,” Mainieri jokingly said in the postgame news conference.
Mainieri compared the past week and a half to the 2008 team’s late-season streak of 23 straight wins. This run can’t match the win total, but the ’08 club was never so dominant in even a 10-game stretch during that run.
Mainieri stopped himself from looking too far ahead.
“I try to not let myself think too much about it while we’re in the midst of it,” he said. “We talk about 2008 all of the time now. That’s what you do — you reminisce. Not right now.”
Saturday was more of the same from a team that trudged through a midseason hitting slump and started SEC play 2-5-1.
Five LSU players had at least two hits, and Moore, Scivicque and Conner Hale hit long balls. Moore ran up his RBI count over the past nine games to 20. He has two home runs in two starts in Hoover this week.
LSU has five homers in the three games here, a stunning number given this expansive park. It measures 340 feet down the left- and right-field lines, 405 in center and 385 in the power alleys. Hale’s second-inning solo shot soared down the left-center alley, clearing the 385-foot fence by at least 10 feet.
“We’re just clicking right now,” Mainieri said.
Not only at the plate.
Bouman (5-2) got the win, hurling a two-hitter through six against the Razorbacks (38-23). At one point, he retired 13 straight batters — an important outing for the junior that proved to Mainieri that he can be a solid No. 3 starter heading into the NCAA tournament.
“Kyle Bouman was the story of the game for me,” Mainieri said.
The hits, though, are tough to ignore.
LSU has scored 85 runs on 104 hits over the past seven games, a run that spans just 57 innings. The Tigers are batting .388 in that stretch.
And now they’ll be playing to win a second straight SEC tournament.
“Championship games are some of the most fun days in baseball,” said Moore, who was on the 2013 title-winning team.
“It’s an experience not a lot of guys get to experience.”