Closing Time

Freshman right-hander Brett Huber always wanted to be a closer.

Over a redshirt season, he watched as Scott Bittle and Jake Morgan routinely dominated SEC hitters. Each was overly confident in their abilities and believed no one could hit them. Morgan, in particular, who had nine saves and won four games.

Huber took note.

"I've realized you just have to go out there and have a lot of confidence," Huber said. "Watching those guys really helps. Jake's a great guy and he actually talked to me about it. You have to attack the zone and make them beat you."

He was never expected to be Ole Miss' closer in 2010, but circumstances quickly changed in the fall when Morgan was shelved with elbow problems and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery.

Head coach Mike Bianco first turned to David Goforth. He had handled the duties before, including three saves as a true freshman. However, Goforth struggled mightily. He was moved to Sundays.

Enter the overly intense Huber, who was recently named SEC Pitcher of the Week. In relief, he picked up a win against Murray State and followed with two saves in three games against in-state rival Mississippi State over the weekend.

For the year, he's made 23 appearances, the most of any Ole Miss pitcher.

"I feel a whole lot better," Huber said. "I know at the beginning of the year when I was considered the setup man, you have that net behind you. You can go out there without worries, because someone's always there to back you up.

"Now, you realize you're the closer for a reason. You have good stuff. I just have to go out there and shut 'em down 1-2-3. Like coach says, the first out is the killer. The first out always gets the other team down."

Huber leads the SEC with seven saves in league play. He has 47 strikeouts in 37 innings, with a 2.86 ERA. Opponents hold a meager .206 batting average against him.

He doesn't have overpowering stuff. Actually, he relies simply on a fastball and a slider to get batters out. His approach is to jump on a hitter early with two strikes, followed by a slider away for his out-pitch.

"He's not a pitcher who's going to throw 98 and stuff like that," junior outfielder Matt Smith said. "But his attitude coming into the game, he wants to be there. He knows that's his role and that's what he wants to do. Every time he goes out there, that's what you get from him. You get his best effort."

Huber's consistency has played a major part in Ole Miss' 10-game winning streak. The No. 11 nationally ranked Rebels (33-13, 14-7) are in a first-place tie with No. 10 Arkansas (35-10, 14-7) atop the SEC West.

The two teams open a three-game series today at 7 p.m., with the winner seeking sole possession of the division with only six regular season games remaining after this weekend.

"I know it's going to be a really big series," Huber said. "Hopefully we get a decent crowd out here this weekend. We just have to look to taking the first game on Friday. They have a good club. Their Friday starter is pretty good and they have a good lineup that can hit.

"All we have to do is just keep swinging the bats the way we are and pitching the way we are and I think we'll be just fine."

The Friday game and the Saturday 7 p.m. contest will both be televised by ESPNU. Sunday's finale is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. but will not be televised.

Drew Pomeranz (6-0, 1.85 ERA) meets Arkansas' Drew Smyly (7-0, 2.19 ERA) Friday. Saturday will feature Aaron Barrett (6-2, 3.72) and DJ Baxendale. Sunday starters for either team have yet to be announced.


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