Tigers will save their ace; Bittle out

OXFORD – Pitching made news on two fronts Thursday as four Oxford Regional teams shared Swayze Field for workouts.
Ole Miss All-American Scott Bittle right-hander will not be part of the 25-man roster. Suffering from what has been termed a strained anterior capsule, Bittle hasn’t pitched since April 26. His absence was not surprising.
It was Missouri coach Tim Jamieson who had the surprising news when he announced his ace, junior right-hander Kyle Gibson, would not start today’s regional opener and would instead pitch in the second game. It’s a risky maneuver but would match Gibson against Ole Miss if both teams win today.
“For us to win the regional Kyle is going to have to beat the home team,” Jamieson said. “He’s the one who’s going to handle that (crowd environment) best. It may not happen, and we may not get to that point, but we’re not here to win only on Friday. We’re here to win the regional.”
No., 2 seed Missouri (34-24) and No. 3 Western Kentucky (39-18) play at 3 p.m. Top-seeded Ole Miss (40-17) and No. 4 seed Monmouth (32-23) follow at 7 p.m.
Western Kentucky went 21-8 in the Sun Belt Conference and earned a share of the regular season title.
The Hilltoppers hit .331 with 80 home runs as a team and have no starter hitting under .300.
“Everybody looks at what they have to do to win the tournament,” Western Kentucky coach Chris Finwood said. “We don’t have a ton of pitching depth, so our best chance is to throw our best guy and stay in the winner’s bracket. They have a kid who’s an All-American, and if they want to save him they can save him.”
Gibson is 10-3 with a 3.47 earned run average, 18 walks and 123 strikeouts in 98 2-3 innings. He has won his last six starts and has five complete games, all within Big 12 Conference play.
Missouri will instead throw Nick Tepesch, a sophomore right-hander, who is 6-4 with a 5.81 ERA in 83 2-3 innings.
Ole Miss will throw sophomore left-hander Drew Pomeranz (6-4, 4.16), the Rebels’ Friday night starter through SEC play.
Rebels coach Mike Bianco has not announced a second-day starter, but it will be either left-hander Brett Bukvich (9-3, 4.61) or right-hander Phillip Irwin (7-3, 3.82). Irwin was one of the team’s more consistent starters near the end of the regular season. He would have been the Rebels’ third starter in the SEC tournament.
Ole Miss has won nine straight regional home games, last losing against Washington in 2004.
Players says they’re confident with our without Bittle and that they won’t be overlooking Monmouth, which tied for fourth in the Northeast Conference in the regular season.
“I don’t think there’s a possibility of that at all,” outfielder Logan Power said. “We had a really good week of practice, and we’re ready to get out there. It seems like it’s been a month since we’ve played.”

Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal