At Last, Relief

Brett Huber admitted some nerves after 17th-ranked Ole Miss beat second-ranked Florida 3-2 Friday night. And why not? That was a fairly intense situation he was in the middle of at game's end.

The redshirt freshman right-hander came in for starter Drew Pomeranz with one out in the top of the eighth inning to try to preserve a 3-1 UM edge. A walk was sandwiched between two fly balls to the outfield, and the 3-1 lead was secure heading to the bottom of the eighth.

After the Rebels (18-5 overall, 3-1 SEC) didn't add to their lead, things were a bit more shaky for Huber in the ninth. They got downright nerve-wracking, if you want to know the truth.

Kamm Washington got a base hit, and Tyler Thompson struck out. Mike Zunino grounded out to second, and Washington advanced to third. The Rebels – and Huber – were one out away from a two-run victory.

But leadoff batter Matt den Dekker walked to put Gators (17-4, 3-1) on first and third. Daniel Pigott singled to center field to score Washington to make things more interesting than any Rebel wanted. It was 3-2 and this one had tightened up considerably.

Preston Tucker and Huber battled through a lengthy at-bat with the Gator first baseman finally winning via a walk. At 2-2 in the count, Tucker fouled a couple off, including one off the front of the first base box seats. At 3-2 moments later, Tucker sent a rocket just past first base and foul by no more than three feet.

A pitch that crossed the plate high sent Tucker to first to load them up.

Austin Maddox came to the plate and Huber got a fast ball past him for strike one. At 1-1, Maddox fouled one back to the screen for a 1-2 count.

The game ended when Huber sent one to the plate that Maddox watched for a called third strike.

"Even when I was warming up I could see it," Huber said of those ‘nerves' he experienced in his biggest moment to date as the Rebels' closer. "I was kind of all over the place right away. I threw strikes (in the eighth inning). In the second inning (ninth) I was just missing a little bit. It happens and you've just got to bite your teeth and keep gutting it out."

Boy, did Huber ever do that.

This was a role David Goforth was supposed to claim after Jake Morgan was out for the season since last fall with Tommy John surgery. But Goforth had struggled to get outs lately, and Huber has, at least for now, become the man to close.

"You have to go through that," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco of Huber's dramatic ninth. "It's tough. You're out there on that hill by yourself. He actually got better though, and that's the great thing about it. Certainly getting the win is huge, but to watch how he pitched to Tucker and Maddox at the end. His stuff was much better at the end than it was the previous maybe five or six batters."

The Rebels scored two runs in the first and another in the second, the last on a squeeze play which got Miles Hamblin home from third after a triple – a sac bunt by Kevin Mort which proved to be the winning run.

Down 3-0, Florida got a run in the third. Maddox doubled to get den Dekker home after he had reached on a base hit.

But that was all the scoring until the top of the ninth when the Gators cut the lead to one run.

Pomeranz and Gator starter Alex Panteliodis were tough for the opposing batters to hit. Pomeranz went 7.1 innings, allowing one run on five hits with nine strikeouts and a walk. Panteliodis got the loss, his first of the season after five wins. He went 7.1 innings as well, allowing three runs on six hits with eight strikeouts and no walks.

Pomeranz, with the win now 4-0 on the campaign, had good things to say about his teammate, the closer.

"He did a good job," said the Rebel junior left-hander. "He seemed to be a little nervous early on, but he settled down. It's good that he was able to have a good experience and finish the game for us."

Huber, who got his second save of the season, was glad when this one was finally over. And who could blame him? He all but admitted to breathing a sigh of relief when Maddox watched his last pitch go by.

"A lot better than what they were," he said of his nerves moments after the game was over. "That's for sure."

Make that for all Reb fans among the 8,417 in attendance for this one.

Game two is set for 6 p.m. Saturday night. Senior RHP Aaron Barrett (5-0, 1.69 ERA) will start for the Rebels, while freshman LHP Brian Johnson (1-1, 4.29 ERA) will go for the Gators.

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