OXFORD – Georgia coach David Perno knew he needed to get to Scott Bittle while he was wobbly, but the Bulldogs never gathered the strength for the final push.
The back-end ace did it again for Ole Miss Sunday, baffling a powerful offensive lineup that had helped Georgia reach the top spot in the coaches poll.
Bittle absorbed five hits over seven innings, walked one and struck out 11 as No. 11 Ole Miss won the series-clinching game 6-1 before 8,219 fans at Swayze Field. Attendance for the series set a school record with 26,929 fans.
With nine regular season games remaining, five SEC teams are bunched within a game of one another near the top of the overall standings.
Georgia and LSU are 14-7, Arkansas is 13-7, and Ole Miss and Florida are 13-8.
“It’s like this every year,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
Bittle’s success in solidifying the third spot in the weekend rotation, a question mark earlier in the season, is a big reason the Rebels (32-12, 13-8 SEC) are in the chase.
The Bulldogs’ (33-11, 14-7 SEC) two through five hitters have at least 11 home runs each, but strength and power were of no use when they couldn’t get the ball off the ground.
Georgia had three hits in the first inning, but they weren’t comfort-zone swings. It was a chopper here, a poke there. The result was a 1-0 lead when Joey Lewis, whose grand slam won Game 1 for the Bulldogs, took an outside pitch to right field.
“He doesn’t give up a lot of home runs. He gets a lot of strikeouts and a lot of ground balls. Not many balls get hit in the air against him. There’s just too much sink on his cutter,” Bianco said.
The Bulldogs got a bloop single in the second, but the single by two-hole hitter Colby May to lead off the third was Georgia’s last hit of the day.
“We knew what he was going to throw, that cutter or slider, but it has such a late break on it (that) you can’t pick it up,” said Georgia cleanup hitter Bryce Massanari, who had three home runs Saturday. “It’s probably the best pitch I’ve seen in college, probably the best pitch in college baseball.”
Bittle struck out Massanari for the second out of the first.
“He had three home runs yesterday, so you knew you weren’t going to get that much out of him today. That’s just part of it,” Perno said. “Our guys just didn’t do enough.”
Bittle retired 15 of the last 16 batters he faced, the only blip was a hit batsman in the fifth. The only Georgia player to get any lift was shortstop Levi Hyams, who flew out to center in the fourth. The rest of the outs were ground balls and strikeouts.
Bittle says he doesn’t consider opponents’ statistics much.
“You can’t lose your focus. You just have to keep going. I’m just out here trying to get outs. I’m not thinking too much,” he said.
Success on the mound wasn’t limited to Bittle. Relievers David Goforth and Jake Morgan threw hitless, scoreless innings, Goforth in the eighth and Morgan in the ninth.
The Rebels tied the game in the bottom of the first when freshman designated hitter Matt Snyder singled through the right side to score Jordan Henry, who led off with an infield single.
Snyder scored on a blooper to right by Kyle Henson, which was ruled an error against Georgia’s Chase Davidson.
Ole Miss picked up a run in the fourth on Michael Hubbard’s inside-the-park home run and extended the lead in the sixth with three runs on three hits.
Evan Button drove in a run with a squeeze bunt, and Henry had a two-run single.
“We thought we were pretty good coming into this weekend, but it’s nice to play great when it’s on the line against a team that is really good, that you have to play great or you don’t win,” Bianco said.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal