STARKVILLE, Miss. — Drenched in the remnants of a celebratory ice-water shower, LSU coach Paul Mainieri said he couldn't remember feeling better.
LSU wrapped up the regular season with its 11th win in 12 tries against Southeastern Conference competition, sweeping Mississippi State with an 11-7 win Saturday night to earn a share of the SEC title with Florida.
It is LSU’s fourth SEC title under Mainieri and 17th overall.
“Man, this is great,” Mainieri said. “We’ve won a few championships, but this one is about as fun as I can imagine. Coming here and sweeping three games? The last three games at Dudy Noble Field? It’s hard to script that. The kids played their heart out all weekend, and they deserved the championships we won here this weekend.”
LSU closer Hunter Newman threw two perfect innings to secure the championship — a tall task on a day when Mississippi State was swinging the bat well. But Mainieri had a good feeling about the outcome when he saw Newman fire his first pitch.
"I could tell from the first pitch I saw him throw in the eighth inning he was locked in. ... I thought Hunter met that challenge in an amazing way," Mainieri said.
The Tigers claimed the No. 2 seed in next week’s SEC tournament. Their first game is at 1 p.m. Wednesday, and they will face the winner of Tuesday's first-round meeting between Missouri and Texas A&M.
As for Saturday's regular-season finale, LSU (39-17, 21-9) knew what it had to do before the game started. Florida knocked off Kentucky in an early rubber match in Gainesville, Florida, to push its record to 21-9 in league play. LSU needed a win to earn a share of the regular-season championship.
"We knew if we could come out, play our game and take care of business, we'd be right where we needed to be," senior second baseman Cole Freeman said.
The Tigers had to wait. Heavy rain in Starkville caused the first pitch to be delayed by about three hours. But while the rain let up, the LSU lineup did not.
The Tigers punished Mississippi State pitching for the second consecutive night, banging out 11 runs on 14 hits to weather a strong offensive performance by the Bulldogs.
"A lot of people stepped up, big knock after big knock," Freeman said.
Eight LSU players collected a base hit. Freeman led the way with three hits, while four of his teammates picked up two.
The fate of Saturday’s series finale was left to the bullpens. Neither LSU’s Eric Walker (four innings, four runs) nor Mississippi State’s Cole Gordon (3.1 innings, five earned runs) made it to the fifth inning.
The Bulldogs figured to have the advantage when they handed the ball to Riley Self with the game tied at 4 in the top of the fourth.
LSU had already burned its outstanding freshman right-hander Zack Hess with a long outing Friday night, while Mississippi State’s top two relievers, Self and closer Spencer Price, had not been used yet.
Self and Price came into Saturday’s game having saved more games (18) than they’d allowed earned runs (17).
But LSU got to both pitchers.
"We rose up to that challenge today," Freeman said.
The first batter Self faced, Freeman, ripped a sharp single over the shortstop’s head. The third, LSU slugger Greg Deichmann, hit a chopper down the third-base line line that glanced off the top of Luke Alexander’s glove for a run-scoring infield single.
LSU tacked on another run in the fifth when Michael Papierski followed Beau Jordan’s double with an RBI single, then chased Self from the game with one out in the sixth after a walk and back-to-back singles gave the Tigers a 7-4 lead.
Price didn’t fare much better. He was greeted with an RBI single by Josh Smith and walked home a run with the bases loaded to make it a 9-4 LSU advantage.
The Tigers' bullpen wasn’t immune. Nick Bush, who took over for Walker to start the fifth, led off the sixth inning by issuing walks to the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, recycling a dangerous top of the Mississippi State order.
Three batters later, the Bulldogs had cut LSU’s lead to two. Brent Rooker’s third hit of the day was an RBI double down the third-base line, and he was followed by Jake Mangum’s two-run single.
LSU called for Caleb Gilbert to face Cody Brown — and Brown looked like he might’ve tied the score when he pummeled a 2-2 pitch to center field. But the ball fell just shy of the fence, and Zach Watson camped under it.
Gilbert was lights-out after that. He struck out four of the next five batters he faced while LSU continued its assault on Mississippi State pitching.
"I was just trying to come in there and stop the bleeding. ... Just trying to get strike one, then get strike two, then make my putaways," Gilbert said. "It worked out, and we're SEC champs."
Gilbert handed an 11-7 lead to Newman to start the eighth. He faced six batters. He struck out the last one he faced, Hunter Vansau, on four pitches to send LSU into a mobbing celebration that carried into center field.