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Nickerson works magic at World Series

The Oregon City grad is named the 'most outstanding player' of the NCAA Baseball World Series
by: photo by Jim Clark, Jonah Nickerson

Former Oregon City High School athletic standout Jonah Nickerson gained national notoriety on June 26 when he was named the most outstanding player for college baseball's World Series.

Nickerson turned in a phenomenal performance to help lead Oregon State University to its first NCAA title in baseball, and only its second NCAA title in any sport. The Beaver cross country team was national champion in 1961.

A 2003 graduate of Oregon City High School, Nickerson was certainly deserving of the College World Series most outstanding player honor. He was the starting pitcher in three World Series games, pitching 21-1/3 innings over a span of just eight days. The Beavers won all three of the games in which Nickerson was the starter, including the June 26 title game, a 3-2 nail-biter with North Carolina. And in each of Nickerson's appearances it was a do-or-die, loser-out situation.

J.J. Winkle, who coached Nickerson at Oregon City High School, explained his reaction upon seeing his former player perform 'beyond belief' on a national stage:

'It was surreal. You watch ball games on TV and see really great performances, but it's people you don't know. To watch Jonah on TV and know that he was part of our program is something special. And to see the tremendous effort he put forth and his amazing performance, it was unbelievable.'

Nickerson pitched the first seven innings in a 5-3 win over Georgia on June 19, allowing just four hits, two runs and no walks, while striking out three. Georgia entered the contest with a reputation as one of the top hitting college teams in the country.

Nickerson came back on June 22 to eliminate the top-ranked Rice Owls, pitching 7-2/3 innings in a 2-0 shutout. Nickerson allowed the Owls just two hits, while striking out nine and walking three. Rice advanced only one runner to third base.

The shutout of the Owls advanced the Beavers to a best-of-three World Series final with North Carolina for the national title.

Oregon City split with the Tar Heels in the first two games between the two teams, losing the first 4-3 and winning the second 11-7.

The game for all the marbles followed on June 26, with the battle-weary Nickerson playing his heart out in a heart-stopping 3-2 victory.

The score was tied at 2-2 when Nickerson left the mound after 6-2/3 innings of masterful pitching. The Series standout scattered six hits, struck out seven and walked one. Both of North Carolina's runs were unearned.

Nickerson threw 321 pitches over 21-1/3 innings in his three Series appearances, and his Series ERA was 0.84.

'I couldn't be happier for Jonah,' said Winkle. 'He's a very unassuming, humble kid. He's not outspoken. But every since I've known him he's had a passion for baseball.'

Winkle said that he and Nickerson talked over the telephone every day during the Series.

'We just talked about the [upcoming game],' said Winkle. 'When he's pitching and how things are going. I didn't do any coaching. Jonah doesn't need any help. He watches a ton of videotape.'

Winkle added: 'I felt honored. Here he was on the biggest stage of his career and he always found time for me.'

Winkle said even back in his days at Oregon City High School, Nickerson was one of the most prepared players he's ever coached.

'He was my student assistant and he'd come in last period of my prep time and pick up a chart book. From his sophomore year on up, he was always very well prepared.'

During his four years at Oregon City, Nickerson was a part of teams that made it to the Class 4A state semifinals twice (2002 and 2003), and two the quarterfinals two times.

A two-time first-team all-state and three-time first-team all-league selection in high school, his senior year Nickerson went 10-3 with a 1.06 ERA.

'Jonah's had a lot of doubters,' said Winkle. 'A lot of people have said he'd never make it as a college pitcher. They said he wasn't big enough, he didn't throw hard enough, or he didn't have the endurance. He's proved them wrong, and I'm not surprised. Jonah was a great athlete in high school. He was our best pitcher, our best hitter - He was our best player, and he was always in great condition.'

During the past season, as a junior at OSU, Nickerson earned a 13-4 win-loss record for a Beaver team that went 50-16, winning its second consecutive Pac 10 championship. He finished with a 2.24 ERA, 131 strikeouts, 38 walks and 114 hits allowed in 136 innings of work.

As a sophomore at OSU, Nickerson had a 9-2 record, with a 2.13 ERA, 114 strikeouts, 29 walks and 37 hits allowed in 110 innings.

He started seven games as a college freshman, going 4-3, with a 5.67 ERA, 54 strikeouts, 19 walks and 51 hits allowed in 46 innings.

Now it's on to the pros for Jonah Nickerson, who was a seventh-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers.

'I think he's got a great chance [of making it as a profession],' said Winkle. 'He prepares himself so well [for opponents], and he's great at locating his pitches.'

Nickerson wasn't the only local player on this year's history-making Oregon State University roster.

Junior Cole Gillespie, a graduate of West Linn, played both outfield and infield for the Beavers. And OSU sophomore pitcher Michael Stutes is a graduate of Lake Oswego High School.

Oregon State University's national championship says a lot about the quality of baseball played in Oregon, because most of the players on the team are graduates of Oregon high schools.