By Victor Skinner
Local Sports Journal

Between his freshman and sophomore years, Muskegon Catholic Central’s Nick Holt worked on his off-speed pitches. He focused on perfecting the break in his curveball, and honing his control over his change-up and split-finger fastball.

“The biggest thing I did was control my off-speed pitches,” the humble sophomore said. “This year, I really worked on controlling all my pitches for any situation.

“I’ve been able to mix it up a lot … so the hitters never really know what’s coming.”

This season, Holt, 16, helped carry the Crusaders to the Division 4 regional finals, before finishing the season with a team record of 27-2. In the regional semifinals, Holt threw a shutout against No. 2- ranked Gobles, a team many thought would win the state title.

“It felt like we were on top of the world,” Holt said of the shutout.

MCC's Nick Holt delivers a pitch during his complete game win over Holton. Photo/Tim Reilly

MCC’s Nick Holt delivers a pitch during his complete game win over Holton. Photo/Tim Reilly

The win may have been the highlight of the season, he said, but the real recognition came this month when Holt was named an all-state player by the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association – the only one in the West Michigan area this year to achieve the elite status.

“I was really excited about it,” Holt said. “It just lets me know the hard work I put in during the off-season pays off.”

Holt’s humble demeanor is deceiving. His stats speak for themselves.

The 6-foot, 185-pound lefty racked up 63 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings on the mound, producing a record of 8-0. Holt’s unbelievable 0.59 ERA meant opponents hit a mere .136.

“He has pretty good control over all his pitches, no matter what speed he’s throwing them,” MCC head coach Steve Schuitema said.

Holt also gained velocity since his freshman year, going from the high 70s to the mid 80s, Schuitema said. The speed and control, combined with his unique delivery and excellent ball movement to baffle batters.

Despite a hyper-extended knee early in the season that forced him to miss a few games, Holt closed out the season in impressive fashion.

Holt threw shutouts in each of last five starts against good teams, including Reeths-Puffer, a no-hitter against North Muskegon, and Gobles in the reginal semifinals.

“He’s pretty crafty for a kid that’s 16-years-old. He kept getting better as the season went on,” Schuitema said.

Holt credits his success, in part, to the support he receives from his family, coaches and teachers at MCC.

And his family is intimately involved.

Mike Holt, Nick’s father, is an assistant coach and calls his pitches, while his brother Jacob, a freshman, is his catcher.

Nick Holt delivers a pitch during his All-State season.

Nick Holt delivers a pitch during his All-State season.

Mike Holt said his son’s talents extend beyond his physical abilities. He is proud of his son’s accomplishments, he said, but even more impressed by Nick’s modest attitude and mental toughness.

Since Nick began pitching as a 9-year-old, he’s handled the pressure on the mound well, Mike said, and has always pushed to improve his game.

“Nick stays focused on the next out. That’s something he does very well,” Mike said.

“He’s a competitor, he always wants to pitch against the better team,” Mike added. “He always wants to push to the next level.”

This summer, Holt will have the opportunity to play at the highest level of his career so far. His impressive tryout for the invitation-only Future Stars Team Michigan – reserved for the top 15 high school talents in Michigan – earned him a chance to compete in an exclusive tournament against the top players from neighboring states at the University of Indiana in August.

“I can’t wait, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Holt said. “I’m going to see kids I’ve never seen before. It’s going to be good to see some of the best players from other states.”

In the meantime, Holt will play summer ball with the West Michigan Riptide and continue to push for the next level. His focus for next year is to take his team further than he did this year and help his teammates earn their own all-state honors.

“That’s a huge goal – to go to the state championships and win it,” Holt said.

Coach Schuitema said he’s looking forward to what his top starter will accomplish in his last 2 years at MCC, but he has little doubt his success will extend well beyond his high school career.

“He’s a 3.9 (GPA) student, quarterback of the football team, lead in the school play,” Schuitema said. “He’s just a real humble kid that makes the right decisions on and off the field.

“If he stays healthy and keeps improving, I think he has a good chance to play at the Division 1 level.”