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October 5, 2011

Huber sees progress this fall

OXFORD, Miss. -- Deciding what to make of fall practice performances is always a tricky task.

A poor ERA in the fall isn't necessarily indicative of anything. Last fall Jake Morgan had a 4.50 ERA but during the spring he never allowed an earned run before an injury ended his season. Austin Wright posted a 5.40 ERA - the 11th best on the team -- but was the Rebels' Sunday starter throughout 2011.

However, sometimes the fall can be a sign of what's to come. Matt Crouse exploded last fall, allowing just two earned runs and striking out 25 while walking just two batters in 19 innings. He began the season as Ole Miss' ace and finished in that role, compiling a respectable 3.41 ERA and 7-4 record.

David Goforth had a similar situation, as a productive fall led to an important role a few months later.

That's the blueprint Brett Huber is hoping for. The fourth-year junior has been dominant throughout the first half of fall ball. In two appearances the Belleville, Ill., native hasn't allowed a hit or a run. Several observers said he had "Friday night stuff," this past weekend, and he's pitching with plenty of belief.

"Huber is pitching with a lot of confidence," head coach Mike Bianco said. "He just looks very mature out there. He looks like a four-year guy, a guy that understands how he needs to be successful, and that's to command his fastball down and work in good counts. Throw a good slider into the strike zone, and he's done that."

After a redshirt season, Huber had a remarkable freshman campaign, pitching 48.1 innings and striking out 54. He walked just 19 and held opponents to a .216 batting average. He finished with 12 saves, one shy of Stephen Head's school record.

But then Huber had the textbook version of a sophomore slump in 2011. His ERA is basically the same - 3.60 to 3.54 -- but the command was much different. He struck out 21 and walked 20 in 23 appearances.

Instead of venturing off to play during the summer, Huber stayed in Oxford and attempted to regain focus.

"I had a lot of control problems last year, and there were some mental aspects of the game I needed to figure out," Huber said. ""I think I put a lot of pressure on myself. That's one of the things I've learned, with (peak performance coach) Brian Cain here, you can't do that.

"My freshman year, all I thought about was one pitch at a time. I succeeded with that. I think last year I got ahead of myself way too much, and I think I was trying to have the same year I was having the year before."

There have also been mechanical changes. Huber has dropped his arm slot slightly and is focusing more on a two-seam fastball. So far, it's working.

"I'm not really worried about throwing 92 miles per hour, just throwing 88-90 down in the zone and letting the ball run," Huber said. "Let the hitters get ground balls. And I really developed a change-up. It's been working out."


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