Cryer stops bleeding with solid relief effort

Ole Miss didn't pull off the sweep on Sunday, but it may have discovered something that it needed just as bad – another reliable arm out of the pen.

Justin Cryer relieved Nathan Baker and went one out shy of six innings as he held No. 4 South Carolina (31-10, 10-8) to three runs and two hits over that span. It was the second time this season the sophomore kept the No. 19 Rebels (27-15, 10-8) within striking distance during an SEC contest. Cryer worked 3.1 scoreless innings against Auburn on April 1, 2007.

"It was almost a carbon copy (like Auburn)," catcher Brett Basham said. "He came in and shut the door to get us back in the ballgame."

Cryer delivered his longest outing since Tommy John surgery sidelined him in 2006, and his pitches were arguably their most effective since then as well. He struck out a career-high 10 of the 22 Gamecocks he faced.

"It was my longest time out there since surgery, and I felt good," Cryer said. "I wasn't fatigued, and I just tried to throw strikes. It was mainly my breaking ball to get ahead, and then I was able to get the fastball in on a couple batters. When you throw harder, you can jam them up inside. They weren't able to know what was coming."

Cryer entered after Baker left one batter into the second inning, and was put into a jam right from the start as the Rebels were already down by six runs. The right-hander hit one batter and walked another, but Basham threw the first man out. After that, Justin Smoak and Reese Havens were the only USC hitters that could touch Cryer but touch him they did.

Smoak launched a shot over the wall to score two in the second, and Havens added insurance with a leadoff home run in the fourth inning.

"I got an early call today and tried to put the fire out," Cryer said. "But I struggled at first before getting some confidence, but then my stuff got better, and I started getting people out."

Cryer's solid outing helped ease the pain of a less than stellar outing against Mississippi State last Tuesday. On that night, the reliever issued three straight walks and allowed a hit before exiting.

Sunday's promising stat line could earn Cryer more weekend opportunities to boost the inconsistent Rebel bullpen that is already improving thanks to the emerging health of closer Cody Satterwhite. Middle relief, however, has been a revolving door mystery all season.

"We need that guy (Cryer)," head coach Mike Bianco said. "We haven't had the best of luck out of the bullpen, and he did well today. I am proud for him."

Ole Miss will entertain Murray State on Tuesday in an effort to remain tuned up before arch-rival Mississippi State enters Oxford the coming weekend for a series with at least second place in the SEC West up for grabs.

Erratic reliever Scott Bittle will get his first career start as a Rebel Tuesday against the Thoroughbreds. Bittle was an early-season dominant closer that accumulated seven saves but became shaky when conference play began.

"The big thing is to keep the momentum going and not let this one loss derail you," Basham said. " The pitchers threw great all weekend except for Baker, but he is young and will bounce back. We need to win Tuesday and then get after Mississippi State."

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