Mississippi missing strong-armed starter

Ole Miss is missing its best pitcher for a critical season-ending series at Arkansas.

Scott Bittle, a senior righthander from Texarkana, Texas, didn’t make the trip to Fayetteville and will miss his third consecutive series because of a sore arm.

The rest of the Rebels’ veterans will carry on and hope Bittle can join them in the postseason.

It’s been a good run for Ole Miss veterans like pitcher Brett Bukvich, left fielder Logan Power and catcher Brett Basham. They have been on clubs that lost in the NCAA Super Regionals in 2006 and 2007, which helped extend the Rebels’ College World Series drought. The school’s last trip to Omaha, Neb., was in 1972.

The Rebels have the look of a CWS contender this season thanks to a 37-15 overall record and a 17-10 SEC record that has them only one game out of first in the league’s overall standings.

“We had three seniors that were drafted come back for their senior season,” Coach Mike Bianco said earlier this season of Bittle, Power and Basham. “You are lucky if you get one, and we had three come back. This is an older, more-experienced group.”

Previous clubs also had CWS talent but fell short, which puts pressure on the Rebels’ seniors who don’t have next season to fall back on.

“I think it’s always in the back of your mind that your days are numbered here in college, but when you go out there and play you show up like always,” said Bittle, who was drafted in the second round by the New York Yankees. “This does look like a second chance for me because I really was disappointed last year. I thought we had a chance to go all the way. We just didn’t put it together.

“This is a last chance to finally do that.”

Bittle, the Rebels’ best weekend starter, will have to wait until the SEC Tournament and maybe even the NCAA Tournament to make his mark.

He hasn’t pitched in a game since developing a sore arm while warming up for a May 3 start at Auburn. He threw in practice Tuesday but he wasn’t deemed healthy enough to be a part of the Rebels’ 25-man travel team. A glance at his numbers – 5-2, 2.17 ERA, 68 strikeouts in

2

45 /3 innings – reflects just how much he means to the team.

Bianco would much rather have Bittle ready for the NCAA Tournament because he could be Ole Miss’ wild card with his success as a starter and a reliever.

“The truth is, we just want to get him healthy so he has a role,” Bianco said.

The Rebels’ program has emerged as one of the more consistent winners in the SEC during Bianco’s nine-year tenure, and he’s won using different styles.

Ole Miss slugged 81 home runs in 2005, but this season’s club is 11th in the SEC with 47 and no player has more than seven home runs. This team relies more on speed and defense.

“I think that’s a sign of a good coaching staff. They take the players they have and they use their talents,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “They still have a little bit of pop, but they have a couple guys at the top who can run and steal bases. They try to pitch and play defense and find a way to beat you.

“They’ve done a great job of that.”

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