Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Former Florida State Seminole John Holland makes long awaited return to the NCAA baseball tournament.

While the majority of the Mississippi State baseball regulars are making their NCAA tournament debuts, Bulldog second sacker, John Holland will be making his second appearance on the road to Omaha. As a Florida State freshman, Holland got a taste of the tourney, but believes that his current squad can make a deeper run into the post season than those Seminoles did.

One of the main reasons, Holland elected to transfer to Mississippi State was the chance to pursue championships. Holland's first year in Starkville brought some frustration 

"Last year was really kind of a down year for us," Holland said of the last place SEC finish of 2015. "Sometimes you have to have a taste of the worst to appreciate the best. I had the best at a different school (Florida State), but this is a different team. 

"I feel like this team is a lot closer than that team at Florida State was. We play a different brand of baseball than that team at Florida State. It's exciting, because I feel like we have more talent here than we did my freshman year there. It's a little scary to think about how this thing may go."

Many of the Diamond Dawgs will be taking the field as an NCAA tournament participant for the first time. As someone who has gone through the experience of preparing for post season play, Holland is doing his part to help others prepare mentally.

"I think the most important thing is to stay level headed," Holland said. "It's still just another game even if we had played them before in the non-conference. These teams are coming in pressing on themselves, so if we can get just relax and play the game that we have been playing all year, we should be fine. We just want to get back out to Omaha."

The Bulldogs are battled tested from taking on the strong arms dealers of the SEC. With three new teams coming in who are a complete mystery, the Bulldogs have some scouting work to do. Holland believes his team is ready for the challenge that each team brings to the Starkville regional.

"A lot of people like to look at it as if the pitchers are coming in with all of the great stats," Holland shared. "People kind of forget about the hitters. Those pitchers have been pitching in different conferences and they haven't faced a lot of SEC hitters either. 

"I believe we have one of the best 1 through 9s in the country and you could probably extend that to 1 through 15. I think the pressure sort of falls to the pitchers, because they haven't really faced a day in and day out line-up like we have. I don't think the pressure is on us to be honest. We just need to play the same game we have been playing."

Holland likes to make things happen on the field of play. In addition to being a scrappy infielder, the talented senior makes some things happen on the base paths. In the SEC tournament, Holland was able to pick up an extra base due to a solid understanding of the game of baseball.

"I am always trying to steal something from them," Holland said of his opponents. "I want to catch them off guard with something. If they're looking at one thing, I am trying to look at the vice versa. I always like to just press. If you see an opportunity and you press, you can sometimes force them into an error then you can take two bags when you should only have one.

"In Hoover, the throw got away and the shortstop stayed there, so I knew that the only person who could get the ball was the second baseman. I knew nobody was behind me, so if I took a couple of good steps off of the bag there was no way they were going to be able to back bag me.

"I took a couple of big steps and the collision happened. I started screaming for obstruction and the umpire gave it to me. It was nice."

Holland has sort of come into his own down the stretch of the regular season, but the second base responsibilities have been shared between Holland and true freshman Hunter Stovall. Holland believes the competition has made the two better and that Stovall has the makings of a future star.

"I knew from the beginning that it was to be like this and we talked about it," Holland said. "Dude is going to be a guaranteed starter next year. He can really play and that's just sort of the way things go at this level. We are all puzzle pieces and sometimes more than one person makes up a puzzle piece.

"I told him in the beginning of the year that it is going to be back and forth between us all year long. He has grinded and got himself back healthy. During the post season, we are going to work together to get the job done."

When players are not seeing a lot of live action on baseball weekends, the Diamond Dawgs still get some work in away from the crowds and umpires to stay game ready.

"We do a lot of things behind the scenes," Holland explained. "They do a good job with that. If we have some pitchers with live arms that need some work, we will get to face live hitting off of them. Our staff gets us a lot of at bats that people don't see. In practice, we stay in there and get to hit a lot of live pitching."

Last spring, Holland packed away his baseball gear none bearing a post season patch of any sort. Now a Senior, Holland is part of an SEC Championship with designs on adding more hardware.

"It's been awesome," Holland said of the season. "We put in the same amount of work last year, but we didn't get the results we wanted. We took all of that and came out this year with a chip on our shoulder. I feel like they made us stronger.

"We have these great fans who come in night in and night out, so seeing them walk out last season with their heads down was hard for us. We wanted to change that and do something great for our fans. We wanted to be the Mississippi State baseball team that should always be here. It's been really rewarding and its really just beginning."

Coach John Cohen has talked all season about the 2016 Bulldogs having a chip on their shoulder. In fact, on some of the Bulldog team gear a graphic chip has been added during the screen printing process along with the Bulldog name. Holland reports that the Diamond Dawgs have taken that mentality to heart.

"That all started back in the fall," Holland said. "We had some shirts made for fall ball and they had a chip on the shoulder. That is something Coach Cohen has preached all year. We even signal everything breaking out of huddles by slapping that chip on our shoulder. 

"We all went through a lot of lot of the same things and this is really a unity thing. It reminds us of where we have come from and what we have been through. I think it is working for sure."

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