In a season where experience is everything, Omaha is no exception. Programs throughout college baseball have benefited from the extra year granted to student-athletes who had their seasons cut short in the Spring of 2020.
Over the last two seasons, Omaha’s strength on the diamond has been starting pitching. Their rotation this spring has been anchored down by seniors Joey Machado and Spencer Koelewyn with junior Richie Holetz waiting for opponents on day three. Mark Timmins, an Omaha Central graduate who is in his fourth season of college baseball, has been sprinkled in for starts as well.
The average age of Omaha starting pitchers this season is 22.7, making the Omaha staff one of the more seasoned groups of arms in baseball.
However, the youngest of that group has been arguably the one who has improved the most since he arrived on campus in the fall of 2018- Holetz.
A right-hander from Edina, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb, Holetz shined throughout the summer before he arrived in Omaha. He compiled an 8-0 record for his American Legion team as a starter and tallied 85 strikeouts. Holetz held opposing batters to a mere .155 batting average while playing for Gene Larkin, who hit a Game 7 walk-off single to win the 1991 World Series for the Minnesota Twins.
However, baseball was not the only thing he excelled in. Holetz also played AAA hockey, one of the highest levels, in the hockey hotbed that Minnesota is.
Even though Holetz began to get looks from colleges during his sophomore year of high school baseball, he stuck with hockey for one more season. He ultimately decided to focus on baseball after his junior year.
“I just thought I’d have a future in baseball more so than hockey,” Holetz said. “It was a tough decision at the time, but it was an easy one in the long run.”
That recruiting ramped up during his junior season as Holetz started to receive offers from schools around the region. It was during that spring that he realized he’d have a chance to compete at the Division I level. He eventually decided to head to Omaha.
“I had played with a lot of talent my junior year and that’s when we went to a few bigger tournaments, so after my performance there I felt that I had a chance at it,” Holetz said. “My family and I all agreed that we liked the midwestern feel, we all liked Omaha as a city, we all liked the campus, and we were all fans of the coaches too. It’s also decently close to home so I wasn’t going too far away.”
That proximity along with the potential for the new field ultimately led him to Omaha. However, it wasn’t necessarily easy his first year on campus.
“When I came to Omaha, it was different for me,” he said. “Going to a place where I didn’t know anybody made me figure a lot of things out.”
His Maverick debut came on Feb. 16, 2019, at USC. He pitched two scoreless innings of relief. Through 10 appearances in the 2019 season, Holetz finished with 16 innings on the mound and had a 9.56 ERA. Holetz allowed a run in seven of those 10 appearances.
Throughout high school, Holetz relied heavily on his two go-to pitches, a fastball and a slider. After his freshman year in Omaha, the coaching staff quickly realized that needed to change.
Peyton Kinney, who was Holetz’s teammate in 2019, was hired as the program’s pitching coach. Kinney dominated in his time as a Maverick using a splitter. In the fall of 2019, he taught Holetz that same pitch.
“Freshman year, I struggled with having another pitch,” Holetz said. “When Peyton joined the staff, he taught me his go-to pitch which was that splitter. I’ve really liked having that third option to go to since then and it helps me get hitters more off-balance. It’s been a great pitch for me.”
Adding the splitter was only the beginning of the changes Holetz made between his freshman and sophomore years. The biggest change though was being shifted to a starting role. That’s allowed him to find a routine and settle into it throughout the spring.
Holetz was roughed up early in the 2020 season and his ERA was in the 7’s through his first two starts. Even though the results weren’t where he wanted them in those starts, Holetz was striking more guys out. Everything started to click in a game against Chicago State last March in which Holetz threw eight shutout innings.
He followed that up with six more scoreless innings and nine strikeouts against cross-town rival Creighton. Even though the remainder of the season was canceled, Holetz picked up where he left off in 2021.
He allowed just one run in his first start against powerhouse Oklahoma and started an eight-game streak against Missouri in which he has thrown at least five innings in each start. That streak is still alive.
“Richie has been wonderful,” said head coach Evan Porter. “He just clicked last year in the last couple games he threw and when we got shut down last season, he’s picked it right back up this season. When the guys are playing behind him, they know we have a chance to win,”
The junior has recorded 48 strikeouts through 51.1 innings in 2021 and is sporting a 3.51 ERA. His recent success has caught the eye of folks across the country, even at the highest level of the game.
This summer, Holetz will join fellow Maverick pitchers Spencer Koelewyn and Jacob Mohler in the newly formed Major League Baseball Draft League. It’s a league that’s designed to showcase the best players in college baseball leading up to the MLB draft in July.
“I’m excited for it, and the competition will be very good,” Holetz said. “It’ll be good to see where I match up against the best players in the country.”
As for the future, Holetz is taking it day-by-day. He hopes to get drafted this summer but is focused on what lies in front of him before then.
“I’m not banking on anything,” he said. “I’ll keep doing my best on the field. I feel like everything will play out whether it is this year, next year, the year after, or not getting drafted at all, and I’m just doing the best I can.”
When it comes to big league aspirations, Holetz says they are there and should be for every ballplayer.
“I think every baseball player’s goal should be to play at the highest level they can,” Holetz said. “Everyone should leave it on the field.”