Justin Henry finds home at second base

With two-year starter Cooper Osteen gone, the second baseman spot was open this fall. It appears that sophomore Justin Henry is the clear leader as fall practice ends.

Justin Henry became a big part of Ole Miss' winningest baseball season in 2005. He DHed. He played some first. He led off. He was used as a pinch hitter and he played some in the outfield.

His versatility and athletic ability was evident in everything he did last year. It was obvious he would play an even bigger role for the 2006 Rebels. But where?

Most of the fall the Vicksburg High product played second base. Now that two-year starter Cooper Osteen has graduated, the 6-foor-3, 185-pound Henry is the clear favorite to be the every day second baseman for the Ole Miss Rebels.

"I‘ve normally been a middle infielder," Henry said. "I really like being a middle infielder, and that's where I want to be."

Last spring Henry played in 57 games and was second on the team in batting with a .374 average. Only Brian Pettway's .383 mark was better. Henry had two doubles, three triples, and two home runs, as well as 26 RBI.

He played a lot of innings at second this fall, and he feels he got better as workouts continued.

"I didn't hit the ball quite as well this fall as I'd like. But my defense was good, and my goal this fall was to improve my defense," Henry said. "Cooper was so good there defensively, that I wanted to play as good as he did so we can have a top defensive club like we did last year."

His fall offensive numbers weren't stellar. With one and perhaps two seven-inning intrasquads this week remaining, Henry is batting .239 with a double, a triple, and only one RBI. But he scored 10 runs and was actually the team's stolen base leader this fall with seven.

He's only struck out three times in 46 at-bats this fall while walking four times.

Sophomore shortstop Zack Cozart said he thought Henry had a solid fall practice.

"I thought Justin did a great job all fall," Cozart said. "I like working with him up the middle. He's like Cooper on defense. He can also hit. So I'm really impressed with the way Justin's been playing."

Like all the returning Rebels, Henry knows he will have to play a leadership role on the 2006 squad, leading the younger players and also filling the void left by the departure of so many players who had big hands in the Rebels' run to the Super Regional finals against Texas.

"You look around out there, and I'm now one of the older guys," he said. "That made it different for me this fall. I knew I had to step up even more. I knew my role would be different this year."

Henry says he was pleased with the fall for the entire team, and he believes the Rebels will be in position to win big again in 2006.

"We lost a lot of great hitters, but we showed this fall as a team we can hit the ball just as well," he said. "We've got some new pitchers, but they showed they are getting better every time they went out. If we keep improving, then we'll be a good team again."

Henry says the attitude and atmosphere of the program is now one where winning is almost a given.

"Everybody that walks out on that field expects us to be in the same position we were last year and for many years to come," he said. "We expect to win and I think other people are beginning to feel that same way about us."

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