Smith, Bittle contribute greatly in Reb win

Mike Bianco said not since his days growing up in Florida had he been involved in such a foggy situation for baseball. Second-ranked Ole Miss and Indiana State had a half-hour fog delay in the seventh inning of the Rebels' 6-4 win Friday night.

Not even at Alex Box Stadium where he played college baseball for LSU did he remember having a game delayed by fog. And many Ole Miss fans know that it can sometimes roll in at night in Tiger Stadium, which is just across the street from the Tigers' baseball home.

There were a lot of contributors in this first game of a three-game series involving the 6-0 Rebels and 1-3 Sycamores. No two were more significant than Matt Smith and Scott Bittle.

Smith, the redshirt freshman first baseman who was injured a week ago in the Rebels' season-opening 8-1 win against Minnesota, had rehabbed his throwing arm all week and was able to play again in this one.

Smith had gone down while pitching, grasping his right throwing arm in obvious pain after a pitch. It was later discovered to be a torn UCL, the tear that in many cases requires Tommy John surgery.

But Smith was able to workout with the team this week and was on the lineup card exactly one week after what appeared to possibly be a season-ender.

He won't be able to pitch this season, but Friday night against ISU he went 2-for-5 at the plate with a single and a double. He played first base the entire game.

"Glad to be back out here," a beaming Smith said afterward. "There's not too much pain at all, and I really want to play. If I would have gone ahead and had surgery, that would be like a wasted season. I feel I can still help us as a team, grit my teeth, and give it what I've got."

Smith said things got better for him as the week went along, and he admitted earlyon it was a difficult situation.

"I was definitely worried (last Friday night)," he said. "When anything like that happens, it's kind of a shock to you. Actually the next day I came out here and threw a little bit and swung the bat a little bit and it didn't hurt all that bad. That gave me a glimmer of hope. I'm definitely out here a lot sooner than I thought."

Smith said he just attempts to put it out of his mind.

"I just try not to think about it," he said. "If I do, it might get in my head. I just don't worry about it and let it take its course. Hitting there's no pain. Throwing there'a just a little bit. The longer distance I throw, the harder it is and the more it hurts. From first to second I can let it go pretty good without it barking at me too bad."

Bianco said playing Smith was basically a no-brainer.

"It was an easy decision to play him because he has felt better every day," he said. He was tremendous out there. From the beginning of the week he hasn't had any pain throwing or hitting. Really to not play him, there was just no reason. I was excited for him to get out there, and it looks like he hasn't missed a beat."

Bittle, the right-handed junior pitcher, came in for Lance Lynn when things were rocky for the Rebels. Lynn left the game with no outs in the top of the seventh and the Rebels leading 6-3. With Sycamores on first and second, something strange happened.

As Bittle warmed up, the umpires and head coaches met, and because of fog the game was delayed. Nobody knew for how long. Bittle headed into the training room to keep his already warmed-up arm warm.

Then more than half an hour later, he came back out, pitching the remainder of the seventh and also the eighth, striking out five. Only one run scored while he was in the game, and that came on an error by Bittle on a tough throw from the second baseman.

"It was hard," of the long wait to pitch, Bittle admitted. "I was sitting in the training room waiting, not knowing whether I'd go back out there or if they'd call the game."

But he went back out there and got the job done.

"I threw the cutter a lot," he said. "To lefties I used my changeup a lot more. I mixed in some fast balls, too. I felt good."

Bittle said coming through was good for him and the Rebels.

"It's a good confidence builder for me and the team. I had a lot of people backing me up today."

None moreso than his head coach.

"This win was about Scott Bittle," Bianco said bluntly. "He was tremendous. He came in in a huge jam with the game on the line. He made pitch after pitch. He's one of the best we've ever had here, literally, talent-wise. He continues to amaze me when he runs out on the field."


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