LSU right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard

LSU right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard delivers to the plate during Saturday's game against Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — For Paul Maineiri and his LSU staff, the best nutrition, and the best ideas for the day, come at the breakfast table.

At Saturday’s pregame meal, coaches decided to stick with senior starter Ma’Khail Hilliard through at least seven innings, leading to an 8-2 series-clinching win over Texas A&M and raised hopes of an NCAA tournament at-large berth.

“We just kind of thought that this game was too important from an NCAA standpoint," Mainieri said. "We needed to go out there and do everything we could do to try and win today and get to 13 wins.”

Initially, LSU's idea was to use the senior right-hander as an opener and let the bullpen carry through the bulk of the game, saving Hilliard’s arm for the SEC tournament next week. With seven innings to work with, however, Hillard allowed two Aggie runs on six hits. He issued no walks and struck out two.

In his fourth start of the season, Hilliard (6-0) exited one out shy of his longest outing this season (he threw 7⅓ innings of four-hit baseball May 8 at Auburn, allowing one earned run across the plate). Saturday's effort was appreciated by a bullpen worn thin from a 13-inning win late Friday night, one that utilized six pitchers to complete.

“The story of the game was Ma’Khail,” Maineiri said. “He went out there and dazzled them again and did a phenomenal job. I was hoping we would get five innings. He gave us seven.”

Hillard’s win pushed the Tigers from fighting for an SEC tournament berth Friday night to the No. 9 seed in the 12-team tournament, which begins Tuesday.

LSU (34-21, 13-17) lost a tiebreaker with 13-17 Georgia, but will face the eight-seeded Bulldogs at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in Hoover, Alabama.

Maineiri said he is still deciding how he will manage the pitching staff through the conference tournament, but he knows he'll have reliever Devin Fontenot ready for Tuesday thanks to Hilard’s outing.

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While the pressure was on the shoulders of the senior starter to pad the Tigers’ résumé, he had little pressure in the game thanks to early run support. The Tigers took advantage of three first-inning errors by the Aggie infield, including an errant throw back to the pitcher to plate two runs in the first.

Two innings later, a trio of home runs to left field put the game away.

After suffering an injury in Thursday night’s game that required a precautionary trip to the regency room, left fielder Gavin Dugas led off the frame with his second home run of the series and 16th of the season. A single by Cade Doughty set up a two-run blast by Zach Arnold off the clock at the top of the Olsen Field scoreboard. Drew Bianco joined the barrage, hitting his solo shot off the left-field foul poll in the following at-bat.

“It was a great feeling,” Arnold said. “Our lineup, all year, has been explosive like that at times. Once one person really gets it going, it just kind of falls into line and everyone just starting getting their hits and hitting the ball hard out of the yard.”

LSU scored another run in the fourth on an RBI single by Doughty and its final insurance in the ninth on an RBI double by Tre’ Morgan.

A&M starter Chris Webber (1-3) was saddled with the loss, allowing the first six of LSU’s runs, with four earned. The Aggies (29-27, 9-21) closed their season after Friday’s loss to LSU, finishing 13th in the conference standings.

With Saturday’s win, Maineiri said he feels slightly more comfortable with the Tigers' at-large chances, no matter what may come in Hoover.

“I don’t think that 13 wins guarantees us a bid,” he said. “There's no assurance that that will do it. I do think if we haven't won 13 games, it would have been a long shot for us. We would have really had to do something great in Hoover. I think it gives us a shot at it now.”