Justin Henry

Somewhere in the mix of just about every Rebel offensive rally number 10 - 2B Justin Henry - pops up. Leading off with a hit, stealing a base, driving in a runner - he normally gets things going for the Rebels. Read about it inside.

Rebel RF Mark Wright grabbed the MVP honors in the SEC Tournament with an event record 13 runs batted in.

The whole pitching staff held the best SEC competition to just 10 runs in 34 innings (one game was 7 innings due to the 10-run rule in tourney play).

Nearly every Rebel had key hits at one time or another in the event.

But it seemed like every time you looked up, sophomore 2B Justin Henry - an All-Tourney selection - was in the mix.

Leading off a rally with a hit, making something happen on the basepaths, taking a walk, scoring a run, driving in someone from the bottom of the order who had reached base.

Whatever it took to provide a spark, Henry did it with a 7-16 (.437 BA) effort in the tournament. In the four games, he scored five runs and drove in four more.

Just what you want a leadoff batter to do. Get on base and get something going.

But that was not rare for Henry, who is tied for second on the team in batting average at .347 with CF Alex Presley and SS Zack Cozart, only .002 behind team leader 3B Chris Coghlan; is one of four Rebels with 80-plus hits on the year; has 29 walks; is third on the team in on-base percentage (.408); and is 18-21 in stolen base attempts.

"He gets us going," is how Rebel Coach Mike Bianco put it. "I can't count how many times Justin has led off a game or an inning with a hit to get us rolling."

A strong case could be made that Henry deserved MVP honors as much as Wright. The word "catalyst" comes to mind, but the slender competitor deflects attention from himself and heaps praise on his team whenever asked to discuss his game.

"I struggled a little coming into the SEC Tournament and just wanted to put the bat on the ball and do whatever I had to do to get on base," said Henry. "With our lineup, all I have to do is get on. The guys behind me will do the rest.

"When you have the 2-9 guys in the lineup that we do, the leadoff guy doesn't have to do anything but get on base and start running. I was seeing the ball well the whole tournament and the guys behind me took care of business."

When Henry gets on base, opposing pitchers know he is a threat to run and disrupt. He likes it that way, but again the deflection to everyone involved in that mayhem-producing facet of baseball.

"Our top four guys in the lineup can steal bases with anyone in the country, in my opinion," Justin continued. "And it's not just about stealing bases. It's about drawing the attention of the opposing pitchers and catchers. If we can draw some concentration away from the batter, maybe the pitcher will leave a pitch out over the plate for our guys to drive.

"We are selective in our base-running, but we always stay aggressive and we want our opposition to know that."

While the offense was rolling up 39 runs in four outings, Henry said it was the Rebel pitching that allowed the Reb hitters to relax at the plate. Once again, giving credit elsewhere.

"When you play second base, you get a chance to see the pitching from close range. The development of our pitchers this year has been amazing," he explained. "When we were 13-11 earlier this year and had just been swept by Alabama, there were some questions about this team, but I was already starting to see our staff mature and gain experience.

"I felt it was just a matter of time. Each outing I'd see more confidence in the face of guys like Will Kline, Cody Satterwhite, Brett Bukvich and Lance Lynn. They just continued to get better and better and it all snowballed to the SEC Tournament. We never doubted the whole tournament that when they needed the big pitch they'd come up with it."

If there was a kink in Henry's armour early in the year it was adjusting to being the every day second baseman, a new role for him this year. Early on, he rolled up double-digit errors but as the season progressed, he became more and more sure-handed.

He and Cozart are the centerpiece for 68 double plays this year, four shy, thus far, of the school record of 72 set in 1992. (They may get that mark yet as the regionals approach.)

"Coach (Dan) McDonnell is our infield coach and he's one of the best in the country. We take a lot of pride in our defense and in the fact that we don't give opposing offenses extra outs with many errors," he explained. "You have to make the plays that are there to be made. I struggled early getting used to second base, but now I feel good there. It's also pretty special to play next to Zack, who is an amazing fielder."

In your standard interview, it's difficult to get Henry to talk about himself. He's a team guy, period.

"I'm just part of the machine," he closed. "I'm just glad to be on the field helping. It was a pretty special feeling to go to the SEC Tournament and play like we did. Bringing home that trophy is something we can cherish for a long time, but we have to put that behind us.

"There's a lot more baseball to be played. We peaked at the right time at the tournament, but we have to make sure we stay on that peak through the regionals and beyond. If we play like we are capable of playing, like we showed we can play in the last part of the season and in the tournament, we are tough. I like where we are now."

And no matter how far the Rebels go, you can bet Justin Henry will be front and center in the picture.

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