Justin Anderson Part of Fighting Artichokes Squad That Claimed 3rd at NJCAA Series
By Daniel Dullum
As a junior at Apache Junction High School, Justin Anderson was a key player in the Prospectors’ state Division IV baseball championship run in 2016. Two years later, Anderson got to play on a big stage again when he and his Scottsdale Community College teammates, advanced to the NJCAA World Series in Enid, OK.
“It was an absolutely amazing experience,” Anderson said. “I made the drive out there, we were met by our sponsor Little League team and parents. We got to do a lot of events, like home run derby and other different things to celebrate all the teams coming in.
“The whole city of Enid is just baseball fanatics, so it was a ton of fun,” he added. “That’s their big deal – the D-II World Series. It’s a super good experience. They sell out the stadium every night.”
The Fighting Artichokes won three and lost two in late May at the Series, taking third place. Anderson pitched in two games as a reliever, both against Community College of Baltimore County-Essex.
In his first game, Anderson threw two scoreless innings, struck out two, walked one and gave up one hit. The second time he faced CCBC-Essex, Anderson gave up one unearned run on two hits in 3 2/3 innings, with two strikeouts and no walks.
“The first game I pitched in was a little nerve-wracking, walking out the mound and warming up,” Anderson said. “Once I got out on that mound, everything settled in. It’s just like any other game.”
After its opening round loss in the NJCAA World Series to CCBC-Essex, Scottsdale CC defeated Kirkwood (IA) CC, CCBC-Essex and Madison (WI) College before falling to Parkland (IL) College.
Earlier, SCC defeated Paradise Valley CC to reach the Series after defeating Mesa CC twice. The Fighting Artichokes finished their season at 32-32.
“We snuck in as a 4-seed, and nobody expected us to do anything,” Anderson said. “We wound up playing amazing baseball through the playoffs. Our pitching staff – when we needed to get outs, we did well. Our hitting – when we needed runs, they came through.
“It was extremely exciting. Our goal from the start of the season was to get to Enid. We had some rough patches where we weren’t sure we were going to, but we knew what we had and knew if we put all the pieces together, we were definitely contenders.”
In his freshman season, Anderson was 3-5 with one save and a 3.80 earned run average. In 64 innings, he struck out 28 and walked 21.
“I was very happy with my freshman year,” Anderson said. “We had a freshmen-dominant pitching staff with one or two returners, with three sophomore pitchers total. So being on a freshmen-dominant staff, I got an opportunity to go out and prove myself. It felt good toward the end of the year.”
What Anderson has improved on the most from his last game for AJHS through his first season at SCC, he said, is, “experience.”
“Sure, my pitches have gotten better, and my velocity has gotten better, but I’ve really learned how to pitch since I entered junior college,” Anderson said. “[The coaches] have taught me a lot about examining hitters’ weaknesses, how to attack and how to pitch – changing speeds, changing location.
“It isn’t just pitching out of the stretch, it’s all those little things I never paid much attention to in high school. I didn’t realize how important they were.”
Anderson said that throughout the season, he was hitting 85 to 86 mph on the radar gun with his fastball.
“In Enid, I was touching 88, 89,” he said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. I’m hoping to bring that up about two to three miles per hour this year.”
Anderson’s arsenal is a four-seam fastball, a circle changeup and a slider.
“No curveball,” he said. “My curveball wasn’t performing very well at the beginning of the season, so the coaching staff sat down and talked to me and made a decision to convert it to a slider. Then it became a lot more effective.”
Another big adjustment for Anderson, he said, is simply the higher level of play.
“They take advantage of every small mistake and nothing gets by these guys. At this level, if a player sees any advantage they’ll take it.
“In high school, you can get away with the small things; you can leave pitches down the middle, and your velocity will get you out of it. At this level, you can’t do that. These guys can handle off-speed pitches. You have to pitch; you can’t just throw.”
While majoring in physical therapy, Anderson looks forward to his sophomore season at Scottsdale.
“If I can perform well and continue improving like I did this year, I should be able to advance to a four-year university,” he said. This is just a stepping stone at this point in my career.”
Anderson also played shortstop and outfield for Apache Junction, but at Scottsdale, his focus is solely on pitching.
“I missed playing the other positions at first, but it’s a lot of work just playing one position, and I’m not sure I can do both. So I’m very happy where I’m at as a pitcher.”
Does he miss hitting?
“No, not at all! I’m good!”
Photo above: Justin Anderson, a 2017 graduate of AJHS, enjoyed a successful freshman season of baseball at Scottsdale Community College.