State wins SEC crown
The Associated Press
May 21, 2001
HOOVER, Ala. The LSU Tigers appeared unstoppable, scoring runs by the bushel and sending balls flying out of the park with regularity.
Then, Chris Young stopped them.
The Mississippi State reliever pitched 51/3 scoreless innings and the Bulldogs beat the Tigers 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game Sunday.
The hitters were shut down,'' said LSU coach Skip Bertman. The pitcher pitched good, maybe as good as he's ever pitched.''
And it was only one of a handful of sparkling mound performances from the league's deepest pitching staff.
Mississippi State (36-22) allowed just one run in its final two games, including a 1-0 win over South Carolina Saturday night, to claim its first SEC tournament title since 1990. The staff compiled a 2.20 earned run average.
After Young's perfect ninth inning including two strikeouts he was swarmed by his teammates, who formed a human mound on top of him while the fans clanged their cowbells and chanted, SEC.''
This tournament was really important for us,'' said Bulldog coach Pat McMahon, who picked up his 350th career win and the automatic regional berth. We wanted to make a statement and play the very best we could. And we wanted to play ourselves into an NCAA regional, and we did that.''
The loss ended the Tigers' 16-game postseason winning streak, seven-game SEC tournament streak and a nearly flawless run. They're still a virtual lock to be a No. 1 NCAA regional seed when they host their 12th straight.
The seeds are handed out Monday.
The Tigers (40-19-1) had outscored opponents 35-8 in their first three tournament games with seven homers, but managed just four singles against Maholm and Young.
It goes from being real hot to being real cold in a matter of 24 hours,'' said Wally Pontiff, who drove home LSU's only run. We had three strong games here, but we went cold today and paid the price.''
Paul Maholm, a freshman left-hander who pitched eight strong innings in Wednesday's 2-1 win over South Carolina, started for the Bulldogs and left with two outs in the fourth and a 3-1 lead.
Enter Young, the tournament MVP.
I could tell right away he was going to be on,'' said catcher Jason Burkley, who was 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Young (5-1) closed it out, striking out five in his longest career outing. He struck out the first two in the ninth and got an easy popup to left to end it.
They're a great hitting team,'' Young said. But I don't think any of us were scared of their hitters.''
LSU relievers Jason Scobie and Lane Mestepey did their job after Mississippi State scored three in the first inning. Scobie replaced Shane Youman (3-2) with one out in the second and gave up a run in 2-2/3 innings. Mestepey, the ace of LSU's rotation, struck out seven in four scoreless innings.
The first four Mississippi State hitters reached, with a walk and three consecutive singles off Youman.
He left after giving up Willingham's first triple of the season one out into the second. Scobie stranded Willingham at third with a strikeout and groundout. It was the only extra base hit of the game.
The slow start bothered Bertman. So did the lack of production from his middle three hitters, who were 0-for-10.
More runs are scored in the first inning than any other inning, particularly in tournament play,'' said Bertman, who was coaching his final SEC tournament. People get beat that way all the time. We've been real good at it until today.
It's tough to win if your 3-4-5 hitters are shut down.''
LSU got a run back in the third when Maholm threw eight straight balls then gave up Wally Pontiff's RBI single. The threat was ended when Mike Fontenot popped up to right and Willingham gunned down Ryan Theriot at second for a rare 9-4 double play.
The Tigers would only get two baserunners past first base after that.
This is a great accomplishment,'' said Matthew Maniscalco, who scored Mississippi State's final run in the fourth. We'll never forget it for the rest of our lives.''