Berkery homer lifts Bulldogs
By By Austin Bishop
EMG regional sports director
HOOVER, Ala. The Ole Miss Rebels are hoping to be somewhere playing in an NCAA Regional next weekend, but it would suit them fine if Jamie Gant's not there.
The Mississippi State freshman shut down the Ole Miss bats with 4.1 innings of two-hit relief on Saturday afternoon as the Bulldogs knocked the Rebels out of the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament with a 4-1 win.
It was Gant's second relief win over the Rebels in a 48-hour span.
"Jamie was outstanding," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. "He had great command of his pitches. I thought when they put him in (with two outs in the fifth) that there was a chance he would get tired, but he just got stronger."
Gant, now 5-1 on the season, pitched two one-hit shutout innings against the Rebels in State's 5-4 12-inning win on Thursday, giving him a total of 6.1 shutout innings for the tournament against Ole Miss with just three hits and six strikeouts.
"He's really done that all year," said MSU head coach Ron Polk of the former Winona High School standout. "That's why we are here pitching and defense."
Going into Saturday's game Gant had a 1.43 ERA and had allowed just 30 hits in 44 innings of work.
While Gant was definitely a dominant factor in the game for the Bulldogs, he was not the only player to have a strong outing on the mound. MSU starter Jeff Lacher allowed just one earned run in 4.2 innings and Ole Miss starter Mark Holliman (6-2) struck out 10 Bulldogs and allowed just one earned run in 5.1 innings of work.
"Mark pitched a tremendous ballgame on the mound, and I think he showed why he will be a very good pitcher before his career at Ole Miss is over," Bianco said of his freshman right-hander.
Rebel reliever Nick Bradshaw was also strong, giving up just one hit in 2.2 innings.
While both teams had strong pitching, it was a pair of defensive breakdowns that cost the Rebels.
Catcher's interference led to a MSU unearned run in the bottom of the second and an error on first baseman Stephen Head, the SEC Freshman of the Year, gave up two more in the sixth.
"We had some miscues on defense that cost us three unearned runs and we couldn't cash in on certain opportunities to score," Bianco said. "We outhit them, but we couldn't get the big hit today."
Bianco said he was not going to put the blame for the loss on Head's shoulders.
"I will take that kid over anybody else in the league and I mean anybody," Bianco said. "He's a great player. If we could we would take that ball to him 100 times. It was just one of those things. It's baseball."
The win pushed Mississippi State to 40-17-1 on the season, while Ole Miss fell to 34-25.
Polk was very blunt after the game with his opinion that MSU should host a regional, while Bianco and the Rebels said they were confident that Ole Miss would be playing somewhere next weekend. The sites for the 16 regionals will be announced today with the full field being revealed on Monday morning.
"If we don't (host), then I'll have something else to fuss with the NCAA about," Polk said. "We have a good record, a good bid, a great ballpark with outstanding fans and a very good team. I think we should get one, but you never know."
"Wherever we go we'll just be ready to play," Bianco said. "It would be nice if it was somewhere nearby where our fans could follow us, but that's not up to us."
"I feel really good about our regional chances," Ole Miss outfielder Jonathan Swearingen said. "We fell as though we are definitely going to be in a regional and I think we've done more than enough to deserve that chance."
MSU went up 1-0 in the second when two walks and a catcher's interference loaded the bases for Thomas Berkery. He rolled into a double play, but Robby Goodson scored the go-ahead run.
The Bulldogs made that 2-0 in the fourth when Brad Corley doubled, Jeff Butts singled hard off of Ole Miss third baseman Brian Pettway's arm and Berkery delivered an RBI single to left.
Ole Miss cut it to 2-1 in the fifth when Matt Tolbert reached on a one-out infield single, moved to third on a hit by Swearingen and scored on a two-out RBI single by Seth Smith.
Butts and Berkery delivered back-to-back one-out singles in the bottom of the sixth, moved up a base each on a groundout and scored when Head couldn't handle Jon Mungle's hard shot to first.