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Oklahoma State baseball's Brian Holiday went from junior-college walk-on to Big 12 starter

STILLWATER — As the 11th-seeded Oklahoma State baseball team begins its pursuit of a Men’s College World Series appearance this weekend, starting pitcher Brian Holiday is sure to get the ball in an important moment.

Maybe his opportunity will come at 6 p.m. Friday when the Cowboys open the Stillwater Regional against Niagara at O’Brate Stadium.

Maybe it’ll come later against one of the other regional opponents, Florida and Nebraska, who face off in the opening game of the four-team tournament at 2 p.m. Friday.

Regardless of when Holiday takes the mound in the NCAA Tournament, it’ll be the biggest stage he’s ever pitched on — something he never could’ve dreamed about in the fall of 2021, when his only college baseball option was as a walk-on at a junior college in his home state of Florida.

Pairing with left-hander Sam Garcia, Holiday has helped OSU develop one of the more reliable starting rotations around, and the recent addition of Carson Benge as a starter, rather than reliever, has boosted the group even more.

More: Who is coming to the Stillwater Regional? Get to know Oklahoma State baseball's opponents

Oklahoma State's Brian Holiday (14) pitches during a Bedlam baseball game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Oklahoma Sooners (OU) in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, April 6, 2024.
Oklahoma State's Brian Holiday (14) pitches during a Bedlam baseball game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Oklahoma Sooners (OU) in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Holiday, listed at 5-foot-11, 203 pounds, has pitched at least six innings in all but one of his starts this season. He’s gone into the ninth in his last two, including a complete-game performance in the 10-1 win over Central Florida in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament last week.

From being almost entirely overlooked when he graduated high school in 2021, Holiday has been on a rather impressive rise since.

“Senior year of high school, I had a pretty decent year, but I didn’t really get very many looks,” said Holiday, who graduated from Land O’ Lakes High School on the north side of Tampa. “I can see why. I’m a shorter right-handed pitcher, more of a stock kind of guy, so I can see how people don’t see the potential there.

“I was offered a walk-on spot to Florida Southwestern, and that was one of the only opportunities I really had. I think a lot of people overlooked my competitive side.”

Used as a reliever in his freshman season, Holiday pitched well, but the coaching staff at Florida Southwestern stepped down after the year. He began looking for another opportunity, and received a scholarship offer to the College of Central Florida in Ocala.

Around the same time, Holiday began to notice increasing velocity on his fastball, which had previously topped out around 91 mph. And in the middle of his sophomore season, he developed a third pitch to complement his fastball and curveball.

More: Oklahoma State baseball: How Sam Garcia's 'monotone mentality' helps him as Friday starter

Oklahoma State pitcher Brian Holiday, left, and catcher Charlie Carter walk on the field before a Bedlam baseball game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Oklahoma Sooners (OU) in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, April 6, 2024.
Oklahoma State pitcher Brian Holiday, left, and catcher Charlie Carter walk on the field before a Bedlam baseball game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys (OSU) and the Oklahoma Sooners (OU) in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, April 6, 2024.

He helped the College of Central Florida to the junior-college national title and was named the MVP of the NJCAA World Series.

OSU coach Josh Holliday could see the pitching talent, but he became more intrigued when he dug into recruiting Holiday.

“He always had the track record of being a dominant presence when he performed at whatever level,” the coach said. “But more than anything, it was the way people spoke about him as a person, his leadership, the way he carried himself. People who encountered him said immediately, he’s just different.

“Anytime somebody recommends somebody because of their character, their energy, their teammate skills … that’s as strong a recommendation as you could ever possibly get to go along with somebody who obviously has the physical ability to play this game.”

Now exceeding 95 mph with his fastball, and fine-tuning his off-speed pitches, Holiday has excelled in his first season as a Cowboy.

“I found my slider last year, about halfway through the year,” he said. “I think that helped out a lot, especially coming here, having thrown that pitch. Then working with (OSU pitching coach Rob Walton) and having him adjust my pitch repertoire to his standards has definitely helped out.”

Holiday enters the Stillwater Regional with a 3.12 ERA and 118 strikeouts to just 18 walks over 104 innings.

He has struck out at least six batters in each of his last seven outings, reaching double-digits three times and peaking with 14 over 8 ⅓ innings at Houston two weeks ago.

And while his pitching talent has increased year by year, the core of his success comes back to what he felt was his overlooked trait coming out of high school — his competitiveness.

“He’s a super-competitive guy,” said Garcia, who has been Holiday’s roommate on road trips the second half of the season. “That’s multiple guys on our team, but I think he just shows it more than others.

“And I think I got some of that from him, because originally, I wasn’t really like that. I was very, ‘It is what it is.’ But he’s really helped me grow as a competitor as well.”

Scott Wright covers Oklahoma State athletics for The Oklahoman. Have a story idea for Scott? He can be reached at swright@oklahoman.com or on Twitter at @ScottWrightOK. Sign up for the Oklahoma State Cowboys newsletter to access more OSU coverage. Support Scott’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com or by using the link at the top of this page.

More: Oklahoma State baseball is No. 11 seed in NCAA Tournament: See Stillwater Regional bracket

Friday's games

Stillwater Regional at O'Brate Stadium:

  • Game 1: Nebraska vs. Florida, 2 p.m. (ESPN+)

  • Game 2: Oklahoma State vs. Niagara, 6 p.m. (ESPN+)

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: How Oklahoma State baseball landed JUCO gem in pitcher Brian Holiday