Lewis earns opening start in JUCO Series

Former Phoenix High standout pitcher Jordan Lewis will take his customary position on the mound today, but the stage will be much bigger than ever before.

As a member of the Western Nevada College baseball team, Lewis will be toeing the rubber as the starting pitcher for the Wildcats in their opening game of the NJCAA Division I Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.

It's the second time in three years Western Nevada has reached the World Series, and second time a Southern Oregon pitcher played a key role in that ascension. Former North Medford High star Cole Rohrbough led the Wildcats to the World Series in 2007.

"I believe we're the best in the country and we're going to come out here and show it," Lewis said leading up to today's 8 a.m. (PDT) opener against top-ranked Howard College of Texas.

For Lewis, the World Series experience will be a culmination of what has already been an outstanding freshman campaign. The 5-foot-10, 187-pound left-hander leads Western Nevada with an 11-2 record and ranks among the top 10 at his level with a 1.97 ERA. He's struck out 70 and walked 26 in 87 innings, and was an All-Region 18 first-team selection.

"It's been a great year," said Lewis. "I got here and in the beginning of the fall I was kinda not all myself and I was just hoping to make sure I was at least one of those guys that got to be on the travel roster. I ended up being the No. 1 guy after our one and two guys got hurt and I've just kinda held onto that spot."

A key for Lewis has been his ability to consistently throw strikes, and his ability to throw deep into ballgames. He has thrown four complete games thus far, with two shutouts and three combined shutouts.

Although his numbers don't really indicate it, Lewis says he's had to go through a learning period after moving up to the collegiate level.

"Hitters aren't going to go chasing all your mistakes like before," he said. "There's a lot of guys who are extremely patient at the plate and they're going to wait until you make a mistake and going to drive it deep. You really need to spot up at this level to be successful."

Lewis allowed three runs in five innings to pick up one of Western Nevada's three wins during the Western District Championships. That tournament also marked the first time this season the Wildcat pitchers have had to square off against aluminum bats. The World Series boasts the same setup.

"It's a huge difference, it's almost unfair," said Lewis, who has thrived in Western Nevada's wood bat league. "I've gone nine months playing a wood bat league and now all of a sudden to go through one of the best teams in the conference with metal bats ... everything just pops right off with a metal bat and things you don't expect to go deep go deep. A lot of things can happen with metal bats."

Lewis hopes to take some sting out of those bats today against a Howard team that boasts a 58-1 record and has been ranked No. 1 all season. Even though Western Nevada's program was only started in 2006, however, the Wildcats (45-12) and Hawks will both be making their second trips to the World Series. Howard won it all in 1991.

"I've been hearing a lot about them," said Lewis. "I've heard from lots of people who have seen them play and say they're really no different than our team. They go out there and put the bat on the ball and have a good pitching staff. I don't think they've seen anyone like us, though, so I think it's going to be a good game."

Former North Medford standout Logan Odom and Klamath Union's Jake Waardenburg are also members of the Western Nevada baseball team.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

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