Saving The Day

Brett Huber knows Stephen Head. The Rebel All-American, whose last game at Ole Miss was when Huber was a ninth grader in high school in Belleville, Ill., seems to have made sure of that.

Last season as a redshirt freshman in college, Huber recorded 12 saves, one shy of Head's school record of 13 in 2003.

Huber's final save last season was in Hoover, Ala., as Ole Miss eliminated Auburn from the Southeastern Conference Tournament by a 10-7 margin. Senior Taylor Hashman hit a three-run home run in the 10th inning to put the Rebels ahead and pave the way for another Huber save.

Senior Rory McKean got the save in Ole Miss' next win, a 10-5 victory against St. John's in the Charlottesville Regional. Two losses later and the season was over for Ole Miss.

Huber never got a chance to tie Head's school record. Head has reminded him of that – good-naturedly, of course.

"I saw Stephen Head a few weekends ago," Huber said. "When I walked away he was like ‘All you needed was one more.' It's kind of cool having your name up there by him. He was such a good player and everybody knows him."

Now it's 2011, and Huber prepares for another season as the Rebel closer. Or will he be in that role?

Jake Morgan is back. Huber knew there was a good chance he could be the closer for Ole Miss last season. After all, ace closer Morgan was out for the season with Tommy John surgery. Now it's a different scenario as both proven closers will be in the Rebel bullpen.

For a moment, let's look back to last season. Huber, then untested at the collegiate level, came through with the proverbial flying colors the entire season.

"With Jake being hurt, I knew I'd have to step up my game," said the right-handed Huber. "I knew I had a chance at closing."

Huber had 12 saves last season

There was another player, David Goforth, who stepped into the role early last season. But the third-year sophomore ended up being a starter.

"Goforth was such a hard thrower," Huber said. "He had done that some the year before, and I knew he had a chance to be it again. He ended up getting it, and I didn't have a problem being the setup guy."

Then came his opportunity to close as Goforth became a starter.

"I had a lot of fun," Huber said. "It's always good to have the coaches' confidence in you at the end of games. I really like closing. I'm an emotional type, and I really like pressure situations. It was fun to be in that role."

Huber said the tone for his 2010 season was set before the school year began.

"The summer before, I was in a relief role," he said. "So I got into that mindset back then. When I got here, I felt I could be a guy who could pitch every day. I don't have too many arm problems or arm soreness. I just got used to being able to pitch every day."

Huber is a Tommy John surgery veteran as well. He had it before his senior season of high school, and he missed his final season of prep baseball. He rehabbed when he got to Ole Miss and redshirted.

Huber thought he might be a starter once his recovery was complete, but there was always a chance of being in the bullpen. And that's where he was last year, with those 12 saves in 30 appearances, 48.1 innings pitched, a 3.54 ERA, and a record of 2-0.

This past fall he actually started some intrasquads. But it became pretty clear that just a few innings pitched was when he was at his best.

"I'd go out there and start and for two or so innings I'd look good," he said. "Then I'd get really tired. He (Coach Mike Bianco) and I talked, and we believe the best thing for me is to go back to being a closer. The fall proved again that's where I really need to be."

Closer. Or setup guy. Or both. With Morgan back, they could each be in any of those roles in multiple games.

As official preseason practice begins today, that is one of many aspects of the 2011 Rebel team to be determined.

"Me and Jake since I got here, we've been really good friends and had a special relationship," Huber said. "Now that both of us are here and healthy, I think both of us are really excited. We're not worried about who gets what role. Coach (Bianco) has even told us he's not calling anybody a closer this year. He knows how special having two guys in the bullpen can be for this team. When we get to the seventh inning, Jake and I feel we can really be there when this team needs us most."

And with two guys in that role, Stephen Head's 13 saves record for one individual player in a single season appears to be safe yet again.

"He was a special player, and so many people remember him," Huber said.

Another couple of seasons like last year, and Brett Huber won't soon be forgotten either.

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