OXFORD – Ole Miss had not been swept at home in six years, and that wasn’t about to change on Scott Bittle’s watch.
The senior right-hander had a no-hitter for 42⁄3 innings for the second straight week, and 14th-ranked Ole Miss survived South Carolina and the approaching thunderstorms to salvage the final game of the SEC series with a 6-1 win Sunday.
The win leaves the Rebels (25-10, 9-6 SEC) in third place in the Western Division, a game back of LSU and 11⁄2 games behind Arkansas, which was rained out against Vanderbilt on Sunday.
Many in the Swayze Field Easter crowd of 5,343 arrived after the noon start – moved ahead an hour and a half because of the threat of inclement weather – and left before closer Jake Morgan recorded the final out. Lightning had been spotted, thunder heard, and a light rain was falling at game’s end.
In between, Ole Miss pitching maintained control for most of the game. Bittle gave up a home run to South Carolina left fielder DeAngelo Mack with two outs in the sixth, the only run he’s allowed in three starts.
Bittle scattered four hits, and Morgan allowed no runs and no hits in three innings for his fourth save. It was a far cry from the first two games of the series when the Gamecocks (23-12, 7-8) collected 20 runs on 28 hits.
“Today was about the pitching. Scott was tremendous, and Jake really did the job at the end,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
Bittle had yet to allow a run in 212⁄3 innings as a starting pitcher when Mack rocked a fastball over the wall just left of straight-away center field in the top of the sixth.
South Carolina led 1-0, a lead that looked pretty strong given the way Gamecocks right-hander Blake Cooper was running through the lineup. Cooper had absorbed four hits and a walk with timely strikeouts in the first and fourth innings.
Ole Miss opened the sixth with back-to-back hits from Matt Snyder and Matt Smith. When right fielder David Phillips tried to bunt the runners up, Gamecocks third baseman Andrew Crisp threw wild to first to allow pinch-runner Tim Ferguson to score and tie the game.
Zach Miller followed Phillips with a sacrifice fly to score Smith, and Ole Miss had its first lead of the weekend.
Ole Miss chased Cooper in the seventh, totaling three runs on four hits, the final one a two-run single by pinch-hitter Taylor Hashman against reliever Grimes Melin.
Bittle gave up a leadoff double in the top of the seventh, but Morgan came on and stranded the runner at third base.
Bittle’s teammates let him know, in good fun, that his scoreless streak was over.
“They’re an aggressive team at the plate. They look for fastballs and drive them, and I left a ball up in the zone,” Bittle said. “I try to take things one inning at a time. I don’t think about a streak like that, but the guys let me know how long it was when it was over.”
Parrish Alford/Daily Journal