Monday, April 23, 2007

Gamecocks Avoid Sweep

The brooms were ready Sunday at Oxford-University Stadium.

Ole Miss (27-15, 10-8 SEC) had a chance to sweep No. 4 South Carolina (31-10, 10-8) for the first time in program history after taking the first two games of the series in dominant fashion.

It wasn't to be, though, as the Gamecocks defeated the Rebels 11-9 in a typical Sunday slugfest in the Southeastern Conference.

The South Carolina bats finally awoke after one of the premier hitting teams in the SEC had been lulled to sleep by Rebel pitchers in both games Friday and Saturday.

Ole Miss starting pitcher Nathan Baker was the victim of an angry Gamecocks team that had nearly as many defensive errors (6) as hits (8) in the first two games.

The freshman Baker, who quietly made a name for himself in the SEC of late, was roughed-up early absorbing South Carolina's best shot in the first inning.

Gamecock batters torched Baker for five runs in the initial frame, including a homerun each from Phil Disher and Jon Willard.

The onslaught didn't stop there as South Carolina's Reese Havens homered off the lefthander to begin the second inning.

Baker was then relieved by redshirt freshman Justin Cryer.

"It's just one of those things where I think it got away from him," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. "It was a difficult day to pitch; the wind was gushing out and he was facing a very good team that was locked in."

After he replaced Baker, Cryer had the best outing of his young career. He pitched the bulk of the middle innings, and, for the most part, kept South Carolina at bay while Ole Miss mounted a comeback.

Cryer scattered two hits over 5.2 innings and struckout a career-high 10 batters as the Rebels chipped away at the deficit.

"Coach Bianco just told me to keep it close and let us have a chance to win," Cryer said. "I felt like I did my best job and gave us a chance to win. We just didn't get the timely hit."

With Cryer on the mound, Ole Miss strung together a two-run inning in the second and a three-run inning in the third to pull within 9-6.

Another two-run inning for the Rebels in the bottom of the sixth made it a one-run game.

Evan Button briefly tied the score for Ole Miss in the bottom of the seventh inning with his third homerun of the season.

In the end, South Carolina managed enough timely hits to secure the victory.
The Gamecocks scored a run in both the eighth and ninth innings off Rebel reliever Cody Satterwhite, and the two runs proved too much for Ole Miss to overcome.

"That's what it felt like - like we were running up hill all day," Bianco said. "Too many runs too early.

Certainly we competed and did a good job battling back, but they were really locked in offensively and we didn't have an answer on the mound."

Although the Gamecocks saved face by taking Sunday's game, the Rebels accomplished what they set out to do this weekend by making a statement and climbing back into the SEC race.

Arkansas remains atop the overall SEC standings at 13-5, followed by Vanderbilt at 12-6.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State are in a virtual tie for second place in the West (though State is percentage points ahead because of two games being rained-out), and the two teams are tied with South Carolina and Florida for third in conference standings.

"After six weeks (of conference play) we've won four weekends and lost two, and the two were on the road," Bianco said. "There's a lot of positives. It's tough to maybe see right now, but certainly I think we're ready to make a run at it."

Friday, the Rebels defeated the Gamecocks 8-5 in a match-up of two of the SEC's top pitchers: Ole Miss' Will Kline and South Carolina's Harris Honeycutt.

Kline out-dueled Honeycutt and the Rebels scored three runs during a two-out rally to take game one.

Lance Lynn was the story of game No. 2.

The burly sophomore threw a three-hit, complete game masterpiece as the Rebels defeated the Gamecocks 6-0.

Ole Miss will next be in action Tuesday when the Rebels host Murray State at 6:30 p.m. Scott Bittle will make his first-career start on the mound in the Red and Blue.

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