The Gauchos had to wait an extra year to get him in uniform, but when he was called upon to be their number two starter this year as a redshirt freshman, left hander Mario Hollands proved that he was more than worth the wait.

“With most freshmen, there’s a period of adjustment [academically], and for Mario it took a little longer than most,” UC Santa Barbara Pitching Coach Tom Myers said.

After getting on track in the classroom, Hollands has lived up to all the hype that he had coming out of high school. The young southpaw has looked like a seasoned veteran in the majority of his Saturday starts this season, going 7-2 in 13 starts with a stingy 3.57 ERA and 60 strikeouts, good for third on the team in both categories.

“His fastball that he commands very well on both sides of the plate is what allows him to have success,” Myers said. “It sets up his secondary stuff and keeps hitters off balance because they have no idea what to expect.”

Pitching against tough opponents has been no trouble for the lanky lefty, as Hollands has locked down wins against opponents from some of the nation’s most competitive conferences, including Houston University (Conference USA), USC (Pac-10) and number six Cal State Fullerton (Big West). His start against the nationally-ranked Titans was particularly impressive, as the El Cerrito native went the distance for the first time in his career, scattering only four hits through nine innings.

“The Fullerton game was huge personally and for the team,” Hollands said. “It wasn’t that hard [to pitch a complete game] because with all the adrenaline going I just coasted through it without even thinking about it.”

Like most young arms, Hollands had to maintain a good work ethic and make changes to his approach during the season in order to put up the ace-like numbers he has going into this weekend’s final series against number nine UC Irvine.

“He’s moved over onto the far right side of the rubber, which has allowed him to have a better angle and command his pitches in the strike zone,” Myers said. “The continued progress of his slider and changeup has a valuable asset in disrupting fastball hitters.”

Disrupting hitters of all varieties has been the trend for all of UC Santa Barbara’s weekend starters this season, as the trio of Hollands and hard-throwing sophomore right hander Mike Ford (6-4, 2.88 ERA) and crafty senior left hander Chuck Huggins (8-2, 4.67 ERA) have played a huge role in leading the Gauchos to their first legitimate shot at the postseason in years.

“I think our rotation is at least on par with, if not better than the Irvine’s, Fullerton’s and Long Beach’s,” Hollands said. “We’ve competed every weekend and put our team in good position to win.”

With the consistency and pure dominance that Hollands has put on display all season long, the sky appears to be the limit for the highly touted left hander that has drawn comparisons to a young Dontrelle Willis among big leaguers. Needless to say, Hollands will be one of the key components of the UCSB rotation over the next couple of seasons before he becomes draft eligible.

“We expected to see him continue to grow physically and mentally,” Myers said. “The future is bright for Mario Hollands and Gaucho baseball with an arm like that in the pitching staff.”