By the start of Mississippi State’s Sunday series finale against Auburn, the Bulldogs had gone just over three games without scoring a run. Scoring droughts happen and ruts are plenty common in a sport with so many games over such a long season, but every team needs the same thing when it finds itself in a funk: someone to get the team out of it.
In the bottom of the second on Sunday, MSU got that moment, though it wasn’t from a senior, not from someone who has been with the Bulldogs for years, nor was it from one of the stud youngsters on the roster.
It came, however, from someone everyone in the dugout expected to step up when heroics were needed, even if those in the stands were less familiar with the name. When a fastball came right over the plate, junior infielder John Holland swung his bat, collided with the ball and sent it soaring over the fence for his first home run of the year and MSU’s first score in nearly a week, beginning the momentum that led to State’s 3-1 win.
“You could kind of see it coming,” head coach John Cohen said afterward.
He didn’t mean the moment the pitch came, though it was evident at least to Holland in that moment, too. Cohen meant that he, his staff and his players had seen this coming for months, really ever since Holland got to campus from junior college last summer.
“John’s worked so hard on his swing and it’s gotten so much better,” Cohen said. “He’s just really simplified some things … Every day he gets a little more confident. He’s kind of becoming that guy that we thought he would be.”
Holland’s start to his first season at MSU wasn’t slow by any means, especially not as he earned a starting role from the get-go, but it wasn’t quite as fast as he might have hoped, either. But over the last few weeks, while the team as a whole has struggled some offensively, Holland has stepped up and become the player Cohen knew he was capable of being when he signed him.
In nine SEC games, Holland’s .346 batting average is second on the team, behind only outfielder Jacob Robson. His slugging percentage is sitting at .500, his fielding percentage is a perfect 1.000 and his three hits against Auburn on Sunday were a career high.
While his numbers at the plate are measurable, his impact at second base is a bit more difficult to quantify. Cohen believes second base may be the most difficult job in the infield at Dudy Noble, and he certainly thinks the person in that position has to make some of the toughest plays of any on his team.
Not that any athlete is allowed to be, well, unathletic, but that position in particular requires the ability to move quickly and make the body do things typically reserved for advanced yoga classes.
In Holland, Cohen has a player with those characteristics.
“He works on it every day,” Cohen said. “He makes plays like that in practice every single day off live balls off the bat. It’s not an accident. Nothing is an accident. He’s a dynamic athlete and I’m really glad he’s starting to get some more confidence and believe in himself because he’s a really good player.”
Holland’s road that brought him to second base at Mississippi State has been a long one. Born John Skipworth Holland, he was an All-American at Northview High School in Georgia. From there, Holland took the short trip to Tallahassee where he played in 41 games as a freshman at Florida State, helping the Seminoles all the way to the College World Series.
His future looked promising, and it still does, but his career took a turn as he missed the entirety of the 2013 due to injury and ended up transferring to Chattahoochee Valley Community College the next year. During that 2014 season, Holland bounced back strong from his year off. His .406 batting average and 70 runs responsible for helped his team to the NJCAA World Series and their first-ever state championship, while Holland himself was named All-American and conference player of the year.
Oddly enough, the Auburn pitcher he hit the home run against on Sunday was his teammate at CVCC during the 2014 season.
“It was kind of neat to hit one off of him,” Holland admitted. “I played behind him the whole year, so I knew his stuff.”
Following his big year in junior college, Holland had a wide variety of choices for his next move, big programs across the country lining up for his services.
Mississippi State, of course, was his eventual decision, one more step on the road leading him to Sunday’s heroics at the time his team needed him the most.
“I think, hopefully, this will get us going a little bit,” Cohen said after the win. “Thank goodness John Holland did that for us.”