College World Series N.C. State. vs. UCLA, 8 p.m. ESPN2

NC State's Tom Holliday makes his pitch from the dugout

acarter@newsobserver.comJune 17, 2013 

NC State, UNC, North Carolina, College World Series, Omaha, CWS

N.C. State associate head coach Tom Holliday watches N.C. State's practice Monday, June 17, 2013, in Omaha, Nebraska.


— By the time N.C. State gathered for practice on Monday, the Wolfpack had known for about 15 hours that they would play UCLA in the College World Series on Tuesday night. During those 15 hours, Tom Holliday, the N.C. State pitching coach, had already studied the Bruins’ batters enough to know their tendencies.

Holliday paid close attention to UCLA’s 2-1 victory against LSU on Sunday night. He watched portions of the game over again after it ended, and then studied some film of the Bruins from earlier in the NCAA tournament.

After practice on Monday, he planned to re-watch the UCLA-LSU game. He also planned to watch another UCLA game from earlier in the season. He planned to do all this so that he could have a detailed list of every UCLA batter’s strength and weaknesses.

Holliday has to know those things, because he calls every N.C. State pitch from the dugout. Carlos Rodon, the sophomore left-hander, is the unquestioned star of the Wolfpack’s pitching staff. But Holliday and the work he has does off the field has been equally important to N.C. State’s pitching success.

After Rodon pitched a complete game on Sunday during the Wolfpack’s 8-1 victory against North Carolina, a reporter asked whether his familiarity with the Tar Heels helped him. It did, Rodon said. His most significant advantage, though, might have been Holliday’s detailed understanding of the Tar Heels’ batting order.

“Holliday calls the pitches,” Rodon said. “I don’t really wave off (what he calls), so he does a great job calling the pitches and I just roll with whatever he calls.”

It’s not unusual for a coach to call pitches from the dugout in the college game. Most teams these days do that. The specific approach that Holliday uses, though, is unique.

N.C. State catcher Brett Austin wears a wristband with numbers on it. Between pitches, Austin quickly looks to the dugout, where Holliday communicates a series of numbers that correspond to the wristband. Austin then relays the information to the pitcher.

The goal is quickness and efficiency, Holliday said. It can be difficult, given the amount of information he relays. Before every Wolfpack pitch, Holliday calls for the type of pitch and where he wants it to be located. Sometimes, he’ll inform Austin that N.C. State is pitching around a hitter.

“A lot of people think walks are a bad thing,” said Holliday, who has been a part of N.C. State’s staff since 2006, and its pitching coach since 2007. “There are times when I’d rather walk a (Colin) Moran than I would let him take one in the gap on me.”

This is Holliday’s 17th trip to the College World Series. He has been here before as an assistant coach at Arizona State, Texas and Oklahoma State, where he also was the head coach from 1997-2003. While the pitching coach at Texas from 2004-06, Holliday said he was the first to have a catcher wear a wristband to receive pitching calls from the dugout.

Back when he played collegiately at Miami in mid-1970s, Holliday was a catcher. He called his own games. Early on in his coaching career, he tried to teach catchers how to call their own games, too.

“And then you get in the (season), and they get up tight, they have a bad at-bat, they go out there and they call bad pitches, call a bad game, get in arguments with pitchers,” he said. “Then after the game when they’re in their hotels and stuff, they second-guess each other and it deteriorates from what you’re trying to build as far as a team.

“And I said, you know what, from this day forward, I’m going to call the pitches.”

His system of pitch-calling, and how he does it, has evolved. Holliday experimented with a variety of systems.

“Verbally, numbers, flashes, touches – you name it,” he said.

As technology has improved, and as college baseball has become more prevalent on TV, Holliday has adapted. The sport’s increased exposure has made it easier to put together detailed scouting reports, which in turn has made it easier for Holliday to call a game from the dugout.

In the dugout, Holliday keeps a chart detailing every one of his calls, and how effective it is. He has notes available on every hitter N.C. State might face that day, and what kind of pitches work against that batter and which ones don’t.

Pitchers have the ability to shake off one of Holliday’s calls but that’s rare, Austin said. Austin can’t remember one time this season that Rodon has disagreed with one of Holliday’s calls.

“With Carlos, he’s pretty special,” Austin said. “He’s got two dominant pitches. And he just goes with Holliday’s call. I don’t think Carlos has shook him off once this year, because I think he’s got that much confidence in all his pitches to throw whatever he wants in any count.

“So it definitely helps a lot, just keeps the rhythm of the game going.”

When N.C. State ended practice on Monday, it was still unclear which pitcher the Wolfpack would start against UCLA. N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, said the decision would depend on a number of factors – not the least important of which would be Holliday’s preference.

Avent and Holliday gathered to study UCLA some more on Monday afternoon. Holliday was planning to expand his scouting report, and to compile more notes of the Bruins’ hitters.

“He’s been doing it for 35 years,” Avent said. “And he doesn’t just do it off the cuff. He watches hours upon hours of film. He’s prepared. He knows what he’s going to do. He knows what he’s going to do with this pitcher, he knows what he’s going to do with that pitcher. And he adapts during the game.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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