Wichita State pitcher Landon Holifield prepared for his senior season in the Eck Stadium press box.
“I look up to the (ESPN) ‘College GameDay’ guys, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso, and I find what they do very intriguing,” Holifield said. “I tried to think about them whenever I spoke.”
Holifield provided color commentary on around 25 of WSU’s baseball broadcasts on ESPN3.com last season while he redshirted after transferring from Abilene Christian. He is a sport management major and interested in broadcasting, so when media relations director Tami Cutler asked, Holifield grabbed the job.
“When he’s done playing pro ball, he might want to look into that,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “I actually listened to him, because he made some very good points. He would kind of foreshadow what we were going to do and had a good feel for the game.”
That feel continued when Holifield, a right-hander from Fort Worth, took the mound last weekend. He struck out four of the six batters he faced in two appearances, part of a solid performance for the bullpen in the sweep of Utah Valley. Relievers gave up two runs and eight hits, striking out 18 and walking two, in 14 1/3 innings.
The Shockers (3-0) play host to Grand Canyon (2-1) on Friday at Eck Stadium to start another three-game series.
For Holifield, his two innings represented a fresh start after a bad experience at Abilene Christian. He played two seasons at Fort Scott Community College before taking his only NCAA Division I offer. The pitching coach who recruited left before he arrived at Abilene Christian, often a sign of tough times to come.
“I was behind the 8-ball there, for sure,” Holifield said. “I was told some things that not every kid likes to hear about their potential and career. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder from that point on. That’s what’s driven me.”
WSU assistant coach Brian Walker watched Holifield pitch in the summer and the Shockers gave him a chance. He practiced with the team in the fall of 2015, but had to throw and work out on his own when the 2016 season started because of NCAA roster limits.
“When he pitched the other day, for the first time in really two years, he was so amped I was surprised he threw the ball down in the zone,” Butler said.
Holifield worked on a split-finger changeup and a cutter-slider. Over the past two weeks, he worked with pitching coach Mike Steele to smooth out his landing and ability to throw down in the strike zone.
“This guy’s on a mission to do all that he can in one season,” Butler said. “Tremendous worker. He’s good at communicating. He’s a difference-maker on our team.”
Holifield considers himself a late bloomer who stood 5-foot-3 and around 95 pounds as a freshman in high school. He grew quickly and waited on his size and strength to catch up with his baseball skills. He didn’t start to fill out until his sophomore year at Fort Scott.
“I found out, once I got to college that there’s a lot of skill to this game,” he said. “I didn’t start really becoming a pitcher until after my freshman year.”
The bullpen’s performance in the opening series provided encouragement. The relievers held a one-run lead for three innings in the opener. In Sunday’s game, starter Connor Lungwitz didn’t make it out of the second inning. WSU trailed 5-2 in the fifth and won 6-5. Those type of scenarios flummoxed last season’s team, which lacked bullpen depth and the ability to rally.
“We know now we’re a much more complete team,” Holifield said. “We’re ready to do some serious damage this year and I think everybody is on board with that.”
Worth noting — Cody Tyler will start Saturday’s game with Zach Lewis on Sunday for WSU. Lewis is recovering from turf toe, which limited his practice this spring. … Grand Canyon opened the season with two wins over then-No. 18 Oklahoma State in Phoenix. Jake Wong pitched six shutout innings and struck out seven in a 6-1 victory. Jake Repavich, Sunday’s scheduled starter, held the Cowboys to four hits over six innings, striking out six, in a 4-0 victory to close the series. … The Shockers are 3-0 for the first time since the 2014 team started 4-0. WSU’s sweep of Utah Valley was its first of a weekend series since it swept Evansville in 2015.
Grand Canyon at Wichita State
- When: 3 p.m. Friday
- Where: Eck Stadium
- Records: GCU 2-1, WSU 3-0
- Pitchers: GCU, RH Jake Wong (1-0, 0.00 ERA); WSU, RH Willie Schwanke (1-0, 4.50)
- Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM, 98.7-FM
- Online: ESPN3.com