Super sophomore Wittenberg puts together breakout year

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 20, 2014 

0521 All-Whatcom BASE

Lynden's Jordan Wittenburg is our baseball player of the year. Photographed on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 in Bellingham, Wash.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

In many ways, Lynden sophomore shortstop Jordan Wittenberg's year followed the Lions' season narrative.

Wittenberg flashed his talents toward the end of the last year when he replaced injured third baseman Hudson Gratton. Lynden coach Cory White said his play earned his teammates' respect.

But thrust into a leadoff-hitting, starting-shortstop role this spring, Wittenberg's responsibilities became amplified, as did the rest of Lynden's roster, which was largely filled with untested players.

Wittenberg's numbers speak for themselves. He hit .458 (33 for 72) during the regular season, stole 15 bases, has five doubles, two home runs and scored 25 times. He drove in 12 runs and only struck out twice in 72 at-bats.

It wasn't always easy, though, as White detailed.

"With any competitor there is frustration that can occur within a season, especially in baseball," White said in a phone interview. "It's a game that sets you up to fail, and there were frustrations he had, times when the game was getting the best of him. He had bumps in the road, but it didn't affect the team. I was really impressed with his maturity. ... He had a lot of expectations he put on himself, and we as a staff as well."

Lynden's baseball club also had high expectations after qualifying for the Class 2A State Tournament each of the previous two seasons.

Wittenberg, like the Lions, flourished in his first full year starting and the sweet-swinging shortstop has been selected The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Baseball Player of the Year. Squalicum coach John Inge, who guided the Storm to the Class 2A Bi-District Tournament and a share of the Northwest Conference title, has been selected Coach of the Year.

"At the beginning of the year, we had ups and downs and didn't start off too hot," Wittenberg said in a phone interview of Lynden's 4-6 record through its first 10 games. "We pulled together as a team and played less as individuals, and that was making us win ball games."

While Lynden placed an emphasis on team ball, Wittenberg elevated his game and became a more aggressive player. He still remembers a conversation he had with Lynden's coaching staff, which wanted him to unleash his full potential.

"Before the Squalicum game, the coaches approached me and gave me the green light to take bags and be more aggressive in the field and hitting. I knew I had to do it, too. That really gave me confidence out there."

Wittenberg showed his ability to do a lot of things well: hit, run, play defense. But what's impossible to miss was his pure swing and quick hands. Oddly enough, two years ago Wittenberg said he was a shell of himself at the plate.

"It was an ugly swing in eighth grade," he said. "I went to Inside Pitch in Bellingham and Brandon Hundt helped me out. (My swing) definitely felt way better. It came to me, and I feel more comfortable at the plate."

Although White decided to bat Wittenberg leadoff, the Lions coach said he could be a No. 3 or 4 hitter on most teams.

"He was such a contributor offensively for us," White said. "He is a guy who hits for average, hits for power and has speed, but in the leadoff role he allowed us to do more and put pressure on defenses."

And while Wittenberg wasn't giving his club a boost with his bat, he was helping out the pitching staff, showing off his range and arm at short.

He made all the plays, White said, but nothing seemed sweeter than Wittenberg's one-motion sliding back-hand play he made on a ground ball deep in the hole between short and third. It became his token play of sorts.

"It's nice to know you have a shortstop that can anchor the infield," White said. "Walking off the diamond, his jersey would always be dirty from sliding or laying out for a ball. As a teammate, that's all you can ask, and he plays that way every pitch."

Wittenberg, who also was a standout on the Lions' state title team in football and a key contributor on the state-runner up basketball team, put together many memorable moments this spring, including his extra-innings home run against Ferndale, which eventually ended in a much-needed win.

But Wittenberg selected the Lions 3-2 win over Anacortes, in which he hit a walk-off single to win the game, as his favorite.

"The Anacortes game we played tough really the whole game," Wittenberg said. "We (trailed), but there was no, 'Oh no.' We kept playing ball and in the last inning hit that walk-off to win the game. It was really a turning point in the season."

Odds are the special moment will be one of many when Wittenberg's career comes to a close.

Reach Andrew Lang at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.

ALL-WHATCOM COUNTY BASEBALL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

2014: Jordan Wittenberg, Lynden

2013: Tanner Olson, Lynden

2012: Jordan Kreider, Lynden

2011: John Albert, Sehome

2010: Anthony Pitsch, Sehome

2009: Casey Locker, Ferndale

2008: Jared Vera, Sehome

2007: Jordan Chambers, Sehome

2006: Jake Locker, Ferndale

Reach ANDREW LANG at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call ext. 862.

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