COLUMBIA — The top two starting pitchers on the Missouri baseball team, Eric Anderson and Rob Zastryzny, spent their senior years of high school racking up wins, striking out batters and earning all-state honors.
In his senior year, Blake Holovach stepped onto the pitching mound for the first time.
Missouri (18-17, 3-9) will host Kansas State (19-18, 3-9) this weekend at Taylor Stadium. Friday's game will be at 6 p.m., while both Saturday's and Sunday's games are scheduled for 1 p.m. starts. Saturday's game will be televised on Fox Sports Midwest.
Holovach, a junior college transfer from Overland Park, Kan., started pitching the summer before his senior year of high school and had a 7-8 record with an ERA of 5.15 during two seasons at Coffeyville Community College.
Despite his lack of experience, Holovach has provided stability in the Missouri rotation during his first year with the team.
Missouri pitching coach Matt Hobbs said Holovach's lack of experience has made it easier to work with him.
"He's like a little piece of clay, almost, because he doesn't have a whole lot of mileage on him," Hobbs said. "People try to get in his head about what he's supposed to do on the mound. He just wants to learn and soak it up."
In his first season following a structured throwing program, Holovach has compiled a 5-2 record with an ERA of 3.81. He has taken over the Saturday starting role because of an injury to Anderson, the Tigers' No. 1 starter entering the season.
Hobbs said he watched Holovach throw four pitches before he knew that he wanted to sign the 6-foot-5 left-hander. Missouri was the only school aggressively pursuing Holovach at the time, he said.
While other junior college transfers, such as Jeff Cline, struggled in starting roles, Holovach has blossomed into the Tigers' most consistent starter.
"Anytime a first-year guy does what he's done, it's a little bit of a surprise because you're not sure how he's going to handle Big 12 or Division I baseball," Missouri head coach Tim Jamieson said. "It's certainly what we counted on when we brought him here, but you don't know for sure exactly what you're going to get when you see him out there."
Holovach's season didn't start smoothly. Looking for an experienced player to add to a young corps of relievers, Jamieson placed him in the bullpen, where he made four bad appearances.
"I think part of it is because he hasn’t gone through the learning curve of knowing the difference between a reliever and a starter," Jamieson said. "I think he had the right mindset, but the physical effort level took away from what he was capable of doing."
Although he's found success as a starter, Holovach regrets his lack of success as a reliever.
"I was excited about the opportunity. I was just frustrated with the outcome," Holovach said. "I kind of wish I would've done good there because it's an exciting role."
Holovach said he used the experience to go back to his pitching basics and work back to where he had been during the fall.
Now that he's settled into the rotation, both Jamieson and Hobbs drew comparisons between Holovach and Missouri's current Friday night starter, Zastryzny.
"(Zastryzny) had really good fastball command, and it took him a little bit longer to develop that secondary stuff, and this year that’s happened for him," Hobbs said. "I think that Blake’s kind of on that same path."
Hobbs said he's seen improvement every time Holovach has taken the mound, and he expects the trend to continue.
"He really responded to our pitching philosophy and what we're trying to do with our program here," Hobbs said. "He's just really grabbed onto it and attacked it the entire time he's been here."