Pitt baseball’s junior centerfielder Jordan Anderson is not a stranger to Florida State’s Dick Hauser Stadium. As the home of Seminoles baseball, Hauser Stadium hosted an NCAA Regional in 2018. Anderson, then an outfielder for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, played in and won the regional tournament hosted in Tallahassee.
His return three years later came under vastly different circumstances.
Anderson said he didn’t get the playing time he was looking for at Mississippi State and decided to transfer to junior college powerhouse Chipola College — located in Marianna, Florida — so that he could see the field more frequently.
In this weekend’s historic sweep of No. 9 Florida State, Anderson returned to Hauser Stadium with multiple years and countless miles in between his current self and the player who recorded one hit in just three total at bats during the 2018 regional.
Anderson and his fellow junior college transfers led the way for Pitt this weekend, when the Panthers captured their first sweep of a nationally-ranked opponent since March of 2014 by beating FSU in three straight games on their home turf. On the mound and at the plate, pick-ups from what is considered one of sport’s lowest divisions that helped the Panthers to landmark wins over the Seminoles.
There are nine former junior college players on Pitt baseball’s 36-man roster and the abundance of JUCO products is intentional. When head coach Mike Bell arrived at Pitt in 2018, he needed to fill roster spots, but didn’t want to overload the program with freshmen.
So he turned to JUCOs. Bell says he and the Pitt coaching staff have expanded their reach far and wide to find the right pieces. He taps relationships with programs and coaches all over the country, now in his third year, those relationships are beginning to yield tangible results on the field.
The two Pitt pitchers who headlined last weekend’s games with quality starts against the Seminoles attended a junior college. Junior righty Mitch Myers — a product of Florida Southwestern State University — flashed brilliance in a 1-0 victory on Friday night. Myers threw 100 pitches of shutout-baseball over six innings, striking out a career-high 13 in the process.
The next night, junior righty Matt Gilbertson — formerly of the College of Southern Nevada, the campus of which is less than a 10-minute drive from his hometown of Henderson — was similarly spectacular. He also tossed six scoreless innings without allowing a score in a 7-2 win.
Anderson started every game of the FSU series in center field, and has been a flexible hitter that Bell can use at the both the top and bottom of the lineup.
Myers and Gilbertson both demonstrated the steely nerves of seasoned veterans when pitching on the road against one of the conference’s and nation’s most talented rosters. Experience that could be counted on immediately is a quality Bell is looking for when recruiting junior college pitching.
“Typically, the junior college guys who come to play at a Division I program are used as plug in right away players, guys who are experienced at that junior college for two years” Bell said. “When you’re recruiting a junior college student-athlete, it’s someone you expect to compete and make an impact as soon as they get there.”
Bell is an old-fashioned coach who appreciates the little things. He likes to reference toughness and winning through hard, consistent play throughout a long season. That’s what draws him to JUCO players.
Attending a junior college can often be seen as a step back, especially for a high powered athlete. Take Anderson for example, who went from high-level recruit playing in an elite conference known for its upscale stadiums and massive budgets to a school that was far less glamorous.
Chipola College is a strong program, one of the country’s best. But even the world’s most successful junior college can’t compete with the resources a Power 5 program enjoys. Take Anderson’s former home, Mississippi State. During his one year in Starkville, the Bulldogs’ home stadium was undergoing a $68 million renovation, a figure more than five times as large as the entire operating budget of Chipola College in 2015.
But the more natural state of baseball in junior college leagues can help to keep the game pure, Gilbertson claims. It’s a difficult experience, but he says there is still a beauty to the sacrifice of long bus rides and grueling weekends of back-to-back doubleheaders.
“We played in small towns in Idaho and Colorado and Eastern Utah,” Gilbertson said. “There’s not really much glamour or excitement. It’s long bus rides, four-game series played in two days. It’s a grind-it-out type of baseball against pretty good teams that aren’t recognized as good teams.”
Going from a simpler form of baseball in JUCO to the pomp and circumstance of the ACC was a culture shock, but Anderson says that the burden of such a change was eased by the kinship of other former JUCO players on the roster.
“I think it’s funny,” Anderson said. “Lots of people who are on the team and did go JUCO, we just laugh about the struggles and the not-so-bright side of going JUCO. We joke about the bus rides, how we never used to fly on airplanes. It’s just funny to relive that.”