Henry searching for answers to sophomore slump|[04/19/08]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 19, 2008

Reigning SEC Freshman of the Year working way back into Rebs’ lineup

PEARL — As the innings ticked by Tuesday night, and Ole Miss saw opportunities come and go, Jordan Henry found himself in one of the toughest situations of his career.

A runner on second, waiting to be driven in, and two outs, as Henry’s spot in the batting order came around. It’s the situation Henry, the 2007 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, thrives in. Only this time, all he could do was cheer someone else on from the dugout.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

A prolonged slump has sent Henry to the bench. After hitting .376 last season, he’s carrying a .245 average this year. In 2007, he was the team’s second-leading hitter behind his brother Justin. In 2008, he’s 11th out of 12 in average among Ole Miss players with at least 50 at-bats and has gone from the leadoff spot, to the No. 9 hole, to the bench. Tuesday’s Governor’s Cup game against Mississippi State marked the 12th time in 13 games he hasn’t started.

It’s a strange role for a player who started all but one of the Rebels’ 65 games last season. He’s found a niche as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinchrunner, and is doing his best to cheer on his teammates as he works to get back in the starting lineup.

“I haven’t been playing a lot the last three weeks, but at the same time we went on a nine-game winning streak. So it’s going good right now,” said Henry, a former Vicksburg High star. “At the beginning of the year the coaches tell us it’s team first. That’s the concept. Jeremy (Travis) has been hitting well and helping us win. It’s tough looking from the dugout, but as long as we’re winning it’s OK.”

Henry got off to a slow start this season, at least compared to last year. He hit safely in Ole Miss’ first nine games, and 15 of its first 18, and was hitting .284 with nine RBIs out of the leadoff spot on March.

Then, on March 16, the Rebels ran into Ricky Bowen.

The Mississippi State right-hander took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in the finale of their SEC series in Starkville, a 4-0 MSU victory. The loss was the start of a rough stretch for Ole Miss in which it lost seven times in nine games. The Rebels recovered to win nine in a row before dropping their last two, but Henry never did. Starting with his encounter with Bowen, he went 3-for-27 over the course of seven games. He was moved from the top of the order to the bottom after going 1-for-11 in a series against Florida, and sent to the bench two games later.

Henry is just 1-for-3 over the Rebels’ last 12 games, with the one hit being a pinch-hit, RBI double against Vanderbilt. Overall, he’s 4-for-32 since facing Bowen.

“A lot of it has to do with timing and not being as confident as you should be at the plate,” Henry said. “It’s one of those things that everybody goes through. You’ve just got to remain positive and optimistic. Statistically, you look at what you’ve done and you know it won’t last forever.”

Henry’s replacement in right field may keep him on the bench for a while, though. Travis is hitting .378 over his last 10 games, with one home run, four doubles and seven RBIs. Henry’s versatility — he can play any of the outfield positions or second base, as well as DH — gives him the ability to find a way back into the lineup even if Travis stays hot. In the meantime, he’s making the most of his limited playing time as a late-inning substitute.

Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco praised the way Henry has handled a tough situation, and said he brings a lot of skills to the table even when slumping.

“Even without his offense, he still brings a lot to the offense with his bunting, baserunning, defense and all of those things,” Bianco said. “He’s handled it terrifically. I think he understands it. He’s a team guy and he understands we’re trying to put the best nine on the field.”

For his part, Henry is trying to be philosophical about the first real slump he’s endured at any level. In high school, he had a career .480 average. Last season, he reached base safely in 62 of 65 games, and hit safely in 25 of 30 SEC games. He knows this will pass, it’s just a matter of when.

“That’s when you have to look at it and say, ‘it happens,'” Henry said. “It’s part of the game. Baseball is a tough sport. You fail more than you succeed.”