'Dores Done

HOOVER, Ala. - Scott Bittle walked from the Ole Miss huddle in left field and was apologetic about his Saturday night outing. From just hearing the words, one would think the Rebels were done and headed back across the state line. However, the junior's sizable smirk told a different story – the true story.

The shutdown reliever had made things interesting for arguably the first time all season. Usually his dominance is so predictable that it becomes boring. Monotonous even.

But against Vanderbilt, Ole Miss' recent SEC Tournament nemesis, Bittle surrendered a couple runs and allowed doubt to creep into the proceedings. However with the game on the line, the Texas native dug deep and secured the win with back-to-back strikeouts.

Afterward, he acted as though he offended the pro-Rebel crowd with the nervous ninth inning.

"Yeah, I am sorry I did that," Bittle stated about his less-than-perfect appearance. "I didn't have my best stuff, but it was gut-check time."

With a swooping changeup that hit the dirt to fan Steven Liddle and dust off Vanderbilt 8-7, Ole Miss and Bittle have now come full circle. The Commodores swept a Saturday doubleheader in 2007 to advance to the SEC Championship game. This time, the Rebels responded after a first loss and pressured the familiar opponent during the entire nightcap.

Bittle entered in the eighth inning with two men on and nobody out. Ole Miss was comfortably ahead 8-3, but four hits later, the lead was just one run, and Vandy had a runner at first with one out in the ninth.

No problem.

Bittle punched out Dominic de la Osa and Liddle, and the Rebels began celebrating another championship appearance, their third in four years.

A year earlier, Bittle's struggles began with two blown saves versus Vanderbilt. But this is a different pitcher. A pitcher that doesn't get rattled or bothered. And one that features the same devastating cutter and a fairly new changeup that equalizes left-handed hitters.

As a sophomore Bittle was a possibility to blow saves. Now, he just blows up opponents. On a night where Bittle was tired and not his sharpest self, five of the six outs were by strikeout.

The Clemens Award finalist again allowed his facial expressions to say more than his words. With the same wry smile that encompassed the apology moments earlier, Bittle disregarded the 2007 struggles against the ‘Dores in the regular season.

"No, that is in the past. You worry about the future."

The three-game series in Nashville may be out of mind according to his statement, but considering the bitter rivalry that has taken shape between these two teams, last year's conference tournament losses couldn't be ignored – even by Bittle.

"They are a quality program, and last year hurt deep," Bittle said. "It was nice to get back at them."

Nice is likely an understatement. The more likely adjectives are outstanding, incredible or redeeming. But Bittle stays PR with the responses. That is why the smiles are important. The true meaning is that this win means a lot to him personally. He hasn't admitted this, but it seems to be true.

Quotes and words are great, but Bittle is a competitor, and one that showed more emotion after settling the score than at any other time this season. The last out was recorded, and the right-hander gave two violent fist pumps and embraced catcher Brett Basham.

The raw emotion was evident.

So, because of Bittle and other solid performances, Ole Miss will face LSU at 3 p.m. Sunday for an SEC title.

And if needed, Bittle will most likely be ready.

"When I wake up tomorrow, I will know (whether he can pitch)," Bittle said. "Tonight is too early to tell."

But the bet is overwhelming positive that the pitcher that possesses "the thing" will be called on if the situation is such where he is needed.

"It isn't often where Scott gets hit like that," Mike Bianco said. "To still win is a good day for us."

Bittle being hit has definitely not been often, but the common theme continued. The Rebels win when he pitches.

When No. 19 enters in a precarious situation and exits with an Ole Miss victory, smiles surface from the entire Rebel contingent on hand. And Bittle lets loose one of his own as well.

The words are unassuming, but the body language says it all. Through fist pumps and facial movements, Bittle has wreaked havoc on the SEC.

He may say last season is in the past, but the checklist in Bittle's head is finally complete. With the SEC Tournament slaying of Vanderbilt marked off, Ole Miss' best gun has found redemption.

The past demons are gone.

And so are the ‘Dores.

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