By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Confidence isn’t surging only through Ole Miss hitters these days. Pitchers are feeling it too.
Redshirt freshman Brett Huber has settled into the role of closer, his seven saves against SEC foes tops in the league.
Huber picked up two saves at Mississippi State last week and hopes he’s in position to add to his total this weekend.
The SEC West lead is at stake when No. 14 Arkansas visits No. 11 Ole Miss, the division co-leaders, meet for three games at Swayze Field. The first two, both with 7 p.m., start times, will be televised by ESPNU. There is no television for Sunday’s 1:30 p.m., start.
Huber, a redshirt freshman from Belleville, Ill., was the set-up man until Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco made sophomore David Goforth the Rebels’ (33-13, 14-7 SEC) Sunday starter.
“The first few times out, like against Florida, I was tense,” Huber said. “You just have to realize you’re the closer for a reason, and it’s because you’ve got good stuff.”
After a while Huber did realize that, believed it even, and his numbers suggest a player growing more comfortable in his new environment. In 37 innings the right-hander has struck out 47 and walked 15. He’s 2-0 with a 2.68 earned run average.
Bianco says Huber’s numbers are comparable to where Jake Morgan was as the closer at this time last season. Morgan has missed this entire season after arm surgery, but he’s been important in helping Huber believe in his skill.
“Yeah, he’s talked to me about it,” Huber said.
But only after Huber began talking to himself, sort of. He was the closer for his summer team last year and took an aggressive approach, convincing himself that his best pitches, the fastball and slider, were good enough to beat the guy at the plate.
“That’s something that I wasn’t doing right at the beginning when I became the closer here,” he said.
Success for Huber comes when he’s able to work ahead in the count. He doesn’t have the mid-90s fastball or overly deceptive movement on pitches.
“He’s at this best when he’s locating,” Bianco said. “When he’s not ahead in the count, he walks a guy or falls behind, he may struggle. But when he attacks the zone …”
Arkansas (35-10, 14-7 SEC) jumped into the West lead early and has held it most of the season.
The Razorbacks have lost four of their last seven, but coach Dave Van Horn does not compare this team to last year’s, which lost its last eight SEC games – three of them to Ole Miss on the final weekend – before rallying to reach the College World Series.
“We don’t feel like we’re in a major slump,” Van Horn said. “We just feel like we got beat by a couple of pretty good teams that out-hit us and out-played us that day and it’s going to happen in a long schedule. We know we need to turn it around and win some games.”
Huber doesn’t believe he’s about to face a team that’s slumping. Instead, he sees a team that hits SEC pitching with a .324 success rate, best in the league. He sees Zack Cox hitting .443 with 82 hits in 185 at-bats.
Cox and teammate Collin Kuhn have each scored 54 runs, tied for second in the SEC.
“They’re a team that can hit, and we know this is a big series, a big weekend for us trying to host a regional and get a national seed,” Huber said.
– Today: Ole Miss LHP Drew Pomeranz (6-0, 18.5) vs. Arkansas LHP Drew Smyly (7-0, 2.19)
– Saturday: Ole Miss RHP Aaron Barrett (6-2, 3.72) vs. Arkansas RHP D.J. Baxendale (0-0, 3.79)
– Today: Ole Miss RHP David Goforth (1-2, 8.15) vs. Arkansas TBA