All Grown Up

George Huguet's most recent appearance isn't one he'd like to save in the memory bank and look back at years from now. With the University of Miami baseball team one out away from clinching another series-victory, and further securing their status in the NCAA Regionals beginning later this month, the Hurricanes' junior closer delivered a pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Jacksonville's Rob Hudson sent into the wind and over the wall for a walk-off homerun against UM.

Chances are that Huguet would have reacted differently if the game-winning blast off of Hudson's bat happened last season. Who knows? Maybe a couple of dents on the water cooler in the dugout or a few expletives coming off the mound.

But this is 2003 and the former All-Dade selection from Barbara Goleman High knows that no matter how bad things get the game of baseball usually offers a chance for redemption. And Huguet is taking full advantage of it.

"The more I play this game the more I realize you're going to have your ups and downs, especially as the closer of a team," says Huguet. "I gave up the home run but I don't feel it was a bad pitch. He just hit it into the wind and it carried. Those things are going to happen if you play this game long enough."

Huguet knows that firsthand.

Despite allowing Hudson's home run, the second he has surrendered in 20 appearances in 2003, Huguet, who missed the first three weeks of the season with a right shoulder injury, is nearer today to the form that made him one of the nation's top closers as a freshman at the University of Miami in 2001 and a big part of the Hurricanes national championship team.

The Hurricanes, ranked 21st in Baseball America's top-25 poll, are coming off a series loss at Jacksonville after dropping two of three games. Miami has three games remaining at Long Beach State May 22-24, as they make a final push towards securing a regional at home and advancing to the College World Series for the ninth time since coach Jim Morris took over in 1994.

And Huguet will have to be on his best behavior.

"I feel I'm a lot smarter on and off the mound. That's helped me in baseball and just maturing" said Huguet. "I've never needed too much self-confidence but my three years here at the University of Miami have really helped me grow up as a person. I've always given 100 percent when it comes to baseball but just being here has taught me that there is more to life than just baseball. Sometimes being too self-confident can work against you."

Huguet was ordered not to throw by doctors and to rest his weary arm after pitching last summer in the Cape Cod League where he posted a 0-3 record with a 2.08 ERA and a league-high 11 saves. But besides starting the 2003 on the shelf Huguet had other problems to tend to after being suspended for one game by UM coach Jim Morris.

The only thing that Huguet makes clear is he was suspended for ‘school reasons' although he does admit that he is taking his academic work at Miami a lot more seriously these days. And one simple slap on the wrist from Morris is apparently all it took.

"I've had problems being late to things before," said Huguet, 22. " But I think I'm more responsible with things in my life now. Sometimes you just do things and don't realize that you're going about them the wrong way."

The 6-0, 185-pounder had no problems living up to the high expectations that accompanied his arrival at the University of Miami in 2001. Huguet couldn't have made the transition from high school to high-profile college baseball look any easier as he recorded 14 saves – the most for a UM reliever since Robbie Morrison's 14 in 1996- in route to a 1-0 record and a 2.03 ERA.

A wide assortment of pitches and plenty of self-confidence was more than enough for Huguet who recorded 34 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings pitched. He topped it all off by pitching five scoreless innings – striking out three batters and allowing three hits - in the College World Series to help lead the Hurricanes to their fourth national championship in Omaha. Huguet was also on the mound for the final out against Clemson in the Super Regional and Florida in the Coral Gables Regional, playing a big part in Miami's trek to Omaha. Huguet was named the Hurricanes' Rookie of the Year by the coaching staff.

So here he was. After just one season of Div. I competition, the same kid that grew up in the Hialeah Academy leagues terrorizing opponents with his rubber arm and falling on dear ears to the many shaking Gatorade rock-filled bottles in the bleachers trying to distract him was receiving national acclaim as one of the best closers in the nation, if not the best.

"I've always been good blocking out everything and just focusing on what I have to do. I remember when I was playing little league in Hialeah my dad was ask me after the games if I noticed all the people shaking the Gatorade bottles but I would always say no," says Huguet, who currently shares third-place on the UM all-time saves list with Cincinnati Reds pitcher Danny Graves with 29.

"I'm a person that has a lot of self-confidence and I think that more than anything helped me come in and get the job done. A lot of guys can't deal with the pressure of being counted on but I use it to my advantage."

Huguet went back to work the following season as a preseason first-team National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association All-American and believing in the back of his mind that getting to Omaha a second time might not be so difficult after all. His ever-present confidence was booming.

Everything was running smoothly and Huguet, along with the Hurricanes, appeared to back on his way to Omaha. That was until the middle of May. Huguet was tossed around in a three-game series at Georgia Tech for eight runs and seven earned runs and a walk as he suffered a blown save and loss in the opener. The following weekend Huguet was dealt another setback in the opener at Jacksonville in which he allowed four runs and four hits in what turned out to be a UM loss. Forgetting about the four appearances combined against Georgia Tech and Jacksonville, Huguet had a 2.23 ERA the rest of the season as he finished 7-4 (5.40) with eight saves.

But he was clearly shaken up.

"If you go back and look it was just a couple of bad outings that I had but yeah after a while you start questioning yourself," says Huguet. "It was like ‘What's going on out there'."

His struggles continued as Huguet allowed a walk-off home run against Florida in the Gainesville Regional and was touched up for three runs and three runs in the final game of the South Carolina Super Regional. A game that also turned out to be Miami's and Huguet's last of the season.

"I'm not going to say my confidence was alright because it wasn't. I had to go back and see what was wrong," said Huguet.

It wasn't anything that couldn't be fixed. Huguet credits his time off at the start of the season and an improved change-up for his consistency this season. During his stint in the Cape Cod League last summer one of the coaches on the team made him throw change-ups repeatedly. Since then Huguet believes he has better control of the pitch.

And unlike most closers in baseball, Huguet doesn't rely strictly on overpowering hitters with his fastball. It's good mix and location of his pitches while getting ahead that makes him a quality pitcher, according to Huguet.

"If you're talented and have the stuff in high school you can get away with blowing a fastball by a guy. But that doesn't necessarily work here " said Huguet. "At this level you can't get away with that because the talent is better and you're obviously in with some talented players. The key for me is to locate my stuff and throw strikes. It feels good to blow a fastball by a hitter but that's not always going to be the case."

Huguet has learned his lesson.

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