What a difference a year makes. Leaner, stronger and wiser after spending the summer playing ball in Alaska, Huddleston is coming off a regular season that saw him earn second team All-SEC honors as a designated hitter. Hitting .356 with 46 runs batted in and a team-best 10 home runs and 20 doubles, Huddleston says there are many reasons for his turnaround but two come to mind.
"Staying healthy has been the biggest thing and the other thing is just luck," Huddleston says with a smile. "The balls are just falling, they find the holes. You see guys that are batting close to you that are hitting line drives and they're going right to people. That's just the biggest thing for me. I've been fortunate enough for balls to fall where people aren't."
Off since last Thursday following their loss to Arkansas in the SEC Baseball Tournament, the Tigers have been forced to sit and wait first for the announcement on whether or not they made it into a regional and now the wait just to play a game. Practicing just like normal, Huddleston notes that this has been a tough game to prepare for because they're not familiar with their first round opponent.
"It has been the longest time we've had where we haven't played any games," Huddleston notes. "It was good that we came out and intra-squad scrimmaged this week. The batters just needed to see live pitching. We're all kind of getting excited about going back up to T-Town and playing Florida Atlantic, which nobody really knows anything about. We're kind of going in there blind and you just have to get ready to play baseball.
"Normally for the SEC we know a lot about each team and we get a little feel for how each pitcher is. For them we really don't because we don't have similar opponents. We have to concentrate on our swings and the pitchers are throwing bullpens to get their pitches in...we have to get good work in this week because we don't know what we're up against."
The Tigers will send junior Levale Speigner to the mound Friday afternoon at 1:30 for the very important first game of the regional. Win and you give yourself a good chance to be playing on Sunday with a chance to advance to a Super Regional. Lose and you have all but ensured your season coming to an end sometime during the weekend.
"It's huge," Huddleston says. "This could turn into a two, three or four game weekend and the biggest thing is not going to be whether we get tired or not but whether our pitching can stay in there. We have to win Friday just to save our pitching because we can't play two on Saturday and then have to beat somebody two on Sunday. It's going to be huge if we can win Friday. We need to score some runs to keep the bullpen for Saturday and Sunday."
One thing in Auburn's favor this weekend is its familiarity with the surroundings. Having played a three-game series in Tuscaloosa just over one month ago, the Tigers realize they have the firepower to hang with the No. 1 seed. AU had Bama on the ropes in game one and game two of the series, but the Tide rallied to win both of those games.
Preparing to head into the postseason on the field of their arch-rivals, Huddleston and company say that they will start over and try to keep those thoughts of what happened at Sewell-Thomas Stadium from surfacing when they take the field on Friday.
"You want to think you feel good, but you don't," says the junior from Montgomery. "We feel okay but we would feel a lot better if we could have won those games. Staying with them helped, but we don't feel that confident going in there because baseball games are nine innings and not seven. That's what we played, two seven-inning games, and we still got beat. If we can finish these games out we'll find out how the weekend will hold up."