No. 15 Ole Miss (15-9) was poised to pick up a momentum-building victory over in-state foe Southern Mississippi (15-7), but the Rebels blew a two-run lead in the ninth, thus allowing Golden Eagle Corey Stevens to take a Justin Cryer pitch over the centerfield wall and walk-off Ole Miss 3-2 in 10 innings.
It is the fourth one-run loss in the last 13 games for the Rebels, who hold a meager 6-9 record since beginning the year 9-0. In 2007, the close setbacks haunted Ole Miss, as the Rebels dropped 14 contests by a single run.
"Bottom line is like we've said all week, we have to play better," Mike Bianco said. "You've got to get more hits, and when you get a chance to win it on the mound, you have to hold them."
Ole Miss appeared to be in total control heading into the ninth inning with Scott Bittle on the mound and a 2-0 lead in its grasp. But Bittle, who has been sensational this season in rebounding from blowing seven saves in 2007, walked the first two batters to open the frame and eventually unleashed a wild pitch with two outs to bring home the second runner and knot the game. Bittle recovered to generate a strikeout and end the inning but enough damage was done.
An inning later, Cryer (1-3) relieved Bittle and punched out the first batter, but Stevens strode to the plate next and created a black and gold mob scene at home with a piercing drive over the 402 sign in dead center.
The collapse wasted a dominant outing from Phillip Irwin. The sophomore hurled six innings of shutout baseball where he scattered seven hits and left with the two-run advantage. Irwin had a career-high eight strikeouts and walked only one.
"It is frustrating, but we all had total confidence in Bittle and Cryer," Irwin said. "We should win these, but I don't know. It's just baseball I guess."
The Rebels built the lead with single runs in the second and sixth innings. Tim Ferguson gave Ole Miss the early lead with a ground ball to score Logan Power from third base. Power doubled to open the inning and moved to third on a Matt Smith sacrifice bunt.
Smith singled sharply to left field in the sixth to extend the lead. The base hit scored Cody Overbeck, who finished with two hits and extended his hit streak to 24 games. Power also notched two hits.
Ole Miss's offensive woes continue with only seven total hits and nine runners left on base. USM closer Tyler Conn (1-0) secured the win with a strikeout of Smith to end the 10th inning.
Rory McKean pitched the seventh frame with no trouble but left in the eighth after allowing the first two batters to reach. Bittle entered and promptly struckout two hitters and escaped with the lead on an exceptional play by Ferguson.
Ferguson saved the advantage on the groundball with a diving stop and toss to second baseman Sean Stuyverson for the force out to end the eighth.
USM starter Josh Billeaud went 7.1 strong, yielding just one run on six hits in the no decision. The home team has won the last eight meeting in this series.
Ole Miss travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala., Friday to face the Crimson Tide in a three-game series. Friday's first pitch is at 6:30 p.m.
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