Carter Holton had never been farther from his Guyton home than Texas before he started his freshman year at Vanderbilt last fall.
But baseball is taking the talented left-handed pitcher to faraway places. The former Benedictine star has now crossed the Pacific and Atlantic oceans after an early season trip with the Commodores to Hawaii, followed by a trek to the Netherlands as a member of the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team last month.
Holton was on the top of his game as Team USA earned a bronze medal in the Honkbalweek Haarlem Tournament in the Netherlands competing against teams from Cuba, Italy, Netherlands, Curacao and Japan.
He saw action in the two games against Japan and allowed just one hit and no runs in 5 1/3 innings, while striking out six and walking two. He had 2 1/3 strong, scoreless innings out of the bullpen in Team USA's win 5-1 win over Japan in the bronze-medal game.
"It meant everything to me getting to represent the U.S. and going to another country," Holton said in a phone interview Saturday. "It was a lot of fun. I had never been farther than Texas before. It was definitely different, but you get to see everybody else's routines and how they live their everyday life."
Holton was a three-time All-Greater Savannah Baseball Player of the Year during his career at Benedictine. The only season he missed was his junior campaign when COVID-19 cut the season short and the award wasn't given. He helped lead BC to the GHSA Class 2A state crown as a freshman and the Class 4A state finals as a senior.
He went 31-4 in his career at BC and posted a state career-record ERA of 0.59. He was easily on pace to break the state record for strikeouts if his junior season wasn't cut short. He fanned 463 high school batters in 213 2/3 career innings.
Holton was projected to go between the first and third round of the 2021 MLB draft. But he fell to the 19th round where he was picked by the Milwaukee Brewers after turning down bonus offers of close to a million dollars from several teams looking to pick him up in the third or fourth rounds.
He chose to pursue his college career at Vanderbilt, where he committed before his sophomore year in high school, to play for highly regarded coach Tim Corbin, known for producing quality MLB pitchers from one of the strongest programs in the country.
The decision is playing out perfectly as Holton put together a freshman season to remember. He cracked the starting rotation with the Commodores and posted a record of 8-4 with an ERA of 3.14, striking out 97 batters in 80 1/3 innings of work. He carried a perfect game into the seventh inning of a seven-inning complete game at Hawaii and didn't allow a run in his final three SEC starts against Texas A&M, Georgia and Arkansas. He was named to the Freshman All-SEC team and Freshman All-America teams.
"After Carter wrapped up such a great freshman year at Vanderbilt, he came back to Benedictine to work out in the weight room and come to some summer practices," BC coach Kevin Farmer said. "He was deciding between playing in the Cape Cod League this summer or trying out for Team USA, and ended up making the national team.
"It's was such a great opportunity for Carter to play for the team and represent our country, and he had another stellar performance. He has a gift that has opened so many doors for him as he got to travel to Oregon for the NCAA regionals and to Hawaii and the Netherlands this year. He keeps adding to his resumé with all these accolades and that's going to help him down the road when the MLB draft comes after his junior year. He's pursuing his dreams and he's still the same humble, down-to-earth kid he's always been."
A short summer break
Holton was in Atlanta with his girlfriend last week and took in a Braves game as he saw Atlanta beat Shohei Ohtani at Truist Park. He's shutting things down throwing-wise for the summer, and will be back on the mound in the fall.
He said he learned a lot on his trip to the Netherlands and that his most memorable moments of his freshman year at Vandy came with the road trip in March to Hawaii, where he got a chance to enjoy island life with his teammates when they were away from the field.
"Playing in the Netherlands was a great experience," Holton said. "A lot of the teams had older guys on them. I think Cuba had one player who was 40 years old. The U.S. and Japan were the only teams made up of college-age players, so it was interesting to see how everyone prepared and played the game."
He said the biggest adjustment in going off to college was living in a big city like Nashville.
"It's a great place to get on your own feet and live on your own," Holton said. "The city is fast, but it gets you ready. I think I improved with my competitiveness this year. I was already competitive. But with the amount of great players you go against in the SEC, you have to literally compete on every single pitch. It's not like just worrying about the 3- and 4-hole hitters and nobody else. Next year, I just want to keep competing like that, and I want us to make a deeper run to make the College World Series."
Dennis Knight covers sports for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at Dknight@savannahnow.com. Twitter: @DennisKnightSMN
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Benedictine grad Carter Holton excels in first year at Vanderbilt baseball