One year ago tonight, Scott Bittle relieved Will Kline with the Rebels and LSU Tigers tied 3-3 in Baton Rouge. Two one-out singles in the bottom of the ninth and an intentional walk to load the bases, and Bittle stood on the mound trying to hold things right where they were.
Then came the unthinkable, an unintentional walk. It was, unfortunately, the type result we saw all too often from Bittle in his first year as a Rebel during conference play.
Fast-forward to this year's series opener against LSU in Oxford. Lance Lynn had pitched marvelously against the Tigers, who had only two hits through eight innings and trailed 2-1 when Bittle came out to pitch the Rebels home.
It's a different year all right, and this is a different Bittle. The junior righty from Texarkana knew what this one meant in more ways than one.
"I had this weekend circled for a while," said a smiling Bittle after he got an important save for the Rebs.
He said he also had the Vanderbilt series circled for this season, too. Last year in Nashville, there were two save opportunities that the Rebels didn't finish. This year, Bittle relieved a struggling Lynn against the Commodores in game one but kept things together as the Rebels rallied to win 7-6.
Bittle, who had several other trying and troubling moments in games during SEC play in 2007, admitted the one on Friday night at venerable Alex Box Stadium before a loud and rowdy crowd of Tiger fans topped them all. Or bottomed them all.
"It was the low point of the year." he admitted tonight, one year later, after he picked up his third save of this season with some awfully wicked numbers in the stats column through 34 games.
In the top of the ninth, Rebel fans rose as one to help him finish off the Tigers. They didn't even hold their collective breaths. This year there has been no need. A more mature, more confident, just plain better Scott Bittle is for the most part getting it done.
"It's a good feeling," he said. "Last year they (the Tigers) burnt me. It's good to get a little revenge."
The starter, Lynn, was "as good as he's been in a while," according to Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco.
"I threw the ball well," said Lynn, who struck out 12 Tigers. "Early in the game I was struggling with my breaking ball, and after I finally got the feel for it later, everything was working. I was just getting people out."
Both Lynn and Bittle showed some emotion during the game, mainly at the end of innings when the final out was recorded – in Bittle's case the final out of the game.
"The last couple of weeks I wasn't showing much emotion," Lynn said. "Coach Bianco said he wanted me to show more and to be myself again. I was pressing, trying to do too much, overthinking out there. He just told me to be myself, and that's what I tried to do."
Lynn, 5-0 on the year, said a low-scoring game on a Friday night is the way things are supposed to be.
"This was fun," the junior ace said. "This is what SEC baseball is all about."
Bittle said the cheers of the massive crowds at Swayze help, too, like the one here Friday night that had an NCAA Regional feel to it.
"It's definitely big," Bittle said. "When you've got thousands cheering for you, it's great. It feels really good."
What a difference a year makes.
Lynn, Bittle pitch Rebs past Tigers
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