With the constant drumbeat of Omaha in the background, the Rebels’ ongoing quest to earn a spot in the College World Series played out, to some degree, not at Regions Park but up the road at the office of Dr. James Andrews.
All-America pitcher Scott Bittle put his arm on display around SEC tournament time, it just wasn’t over here. It was on an examination table for Andrews, orthopedist to the stars.
The results of Wednesday’s exam gave Bittle’s injury a name – a strained anterior capsule – but ruled him neither in nor out for the remainder of the season.
The prescription for Bittle is rest. That would be easy enough if this was January, but it’s nearly June. The clock is ticking, and the drum is beating.
The list of accomplishments by Mike Bianco’s Ole Miss baseball teams is long, but Omaha is absent.
The Rebels shared the SEC regular-season championship this season with a school-record 20 conference wins. It remains to be seen if that alone will be enough to earn a top eight seed in the NCAA tournament which would give the Rebels an Oxford-only path to Omaha should they win the required number of games.
The fact of the matter is this team’s very impressive regular season was built in large part on the success of Bittle, last year’s dominant closer, as the Sunday starter.
The Rebels won regular season games this month when Bittle was unavailable, but they won with offense.
Hitting is something that comes and goes. That’s especially true when you’re a singles-hitting team, as the Rebels proved in losing two quick SEC tournament games, and it takes three hits or the generosity of the fielding team for a big inning. Manufacturing runs is important, sometimes necessary, but over the long haul giving up outs can come back to haunt.
Pitching is what the Rebels do, and to take away the arm of Bittle at Ole Miss is to take away the bat of Kent Matthes at Alabama or Rich Poythress at Georgia. Yes, there are quality players around, but you feel it.
Without Bittle, this team can win a regional at home with the right draw, but a super regional becomes much more dicey. As the tournament progresses, the teams get better. The screws tighten, and there’s less mercy for mistake pitches. With Bittle, there are fewer mistakes.
There’s also a confidence factor with the extra pep his teammates show when he’s pitching.
With Bittle’s status a great unknown, a national seed would come in handy. The Rebels’ 0-2 stay in the SEC tournament made them more vulnerable in that pursuit.
If they get good news on Bittle’s arm in the days to come and get their best staff back in order, a best-of-three series on the road is an obstacle they can overcome.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NeMs360.com.
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