After coming up one game short of a College World Series title last year, however, Holder just couldn’t get past the nagging feeling that he had something more to prove. He wanted another crack at a championship with his Georgia teammates, and once he saw the talent the Bulldogs had on their roster for 2009, he made his mind that the pros would have to wait.
“I just felt like there was that unfinished business,” Holder said. “It’s so hard to get out there and taste it – one game away – and I really think we can make a run at it.”
Georgia begins its run at a second straight trip to the College World Series championship game tonight against Youngstown State at Foley Field.
While the team’s goals haven’t changed, Holder hopes his senior season brings some improvement individually, too.
Last year, Holder was clearly Georgia’s ace but some nagging injuries late in the year hurt his overall numbers. He finished the season just 8-4 with a 4.41 ERA.
A strong offseason of conditioning followed Georgia’s College World Series loss, however, and Holder thinks he has improved his stamina enough to post big improvements this season.
“Last year I kind of fell off and got a little weak,” Holder said. “I had a little injury toward the end, and I told myself that’s not going to happen this year, I’m going to be stronger than I ever have before.”
While Holder’s contributions on the mound figure to be huge this season, coach Dave Perno said the return of his ace had an even bigger impact in the locker room.
In years past, Georgia has followed strong seasons with disappointments, and Perno said the lack of senior leadership has been a big reason why. When Holder decided to come back – alongside senior All-American Bryce Massanari and senior reliever Will Harvil – he ensured that wouldn’t be the case this time around.
“When you return your ace from a team that finishes second in the country, that’s a pretty good start,” Perno said. “His leadership, his competitiveness is just a huge asset for this team.”
More than that, Holder’s presence offers flexibility for Perno when it comes to figuring out how to handle his pitching staff. Had Holder bolted for the pros, the effects would have been felt throughout the staff. But with their ace still in the fold, the Bulldogs should be set with one of the SEC’s deepest group of pitchers.
Holder, of course, remains the Friday night starter, a role he said he’s thrilled to be playing for the second year in a row. Alex McCree, who served mostly as a middle reliever last year, slots in as the No. 2 starter, giving Georgia one of the country’s best one-two combinations. McCree finished the 2008 season with a 7-1 record and a 3.98 ERA.
“Trevor takes the pressure off and with those two guys in the one and two hole, our bullpen’s got a chance to be really good, too,” Perno said. “It’s a big time trickle down effect.”
Last year’s closer, Josh Fields, is gone, but because only McCree will be shifting roles from last year’s bullpen, the Bulldogs still figure to have a strong group of replacements.
Dean Weaver, who was 6-1 a year ago, and junior Jeff Walters appear to be first in line for saves.
“I don’t know if we’ll have a set closer like Fields,” Massanari said, “because I think Deano can go a couple innings and Walters can go a couple innings, and they’ll both get some saves I’m sure.”
Of course, while Holder’s return had a big impact on the Bulldogs’ pitching staff, the loss of junior Gordon Beckham, who along with Fields was selected in the first round of last year’s Major League Baseball draft, will be equally big for the Georgia offense.
Beckham hit .411 last year with 28 homers, and his departure, along with Ryan Peisel, who had 12 home runs, means the Georgia offense will be a bit light on power this year.
Massanari’s bat could help make up for the losses, and first baseman Rich Poythress, who had 15 homers and 75 RBI last season, adds another All-American to the lineup.
While the offense may have some question marks entering the year, the biggest obstacle, Massanari said, might be who steps up off the field.
“Those were the captains and they really led our team strong,” Massanari said. “I would say if we have anything to worry about, it’s our leadership. We’ve got to step up and fill those roles and teach those younger guys how to do things.”