Feature photo courtesy of Adam Wesley of The Gazette.
For some, turning down a Division I baseball offer and heading to junior college is a big risk, but it has certainly worked out so far for Derek Lieurance.
Lieurance attended Cascade High School in Iowa and had a lot of success as a right-handed pitcher over his four years. That success earned him a bunch of junior college offers along with Division I offers from Western Illinois and Creighton. He chose Western Illinois coming out of high school, but soon flipped his commitment and chose North Iowa Area Community College, citing personal improvement for his change of schools.
“I kind of blew up [during] my senior year of high school. My high school coach said ‘you know, I think you could probably do better than that’ and I started to believe him and I thought the JuCo route was better for me and I took a shot at it,” Lieurance said.
With such a big decision like turning down Division I baseball for junior college, there will always be worries, and Lieurance did feel some of them.
“The big thing for me was, say I got hurt or I just had a bad year I was worried that I would never get another division one offer. It’s all worked out but yeah, I was worried about it,” Lieurance said.
Lieurance and his coach both though he could get to a better Division I program after his fastball velocity jumped from the 85 to 88 range during his junior year to the 88 to 91 range during his senior year.
After Lieurance made the switch to NIACC, he had plenty of success in his first year, as did his team. His NIACC team advanced all the way to the NJCAA Division II World Series season. They fell short of winning the national title but finished the season 47-16 overall. Lieurance also had big success during NIACC’s run, earning second team all-conference honors in Division II of the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference.
Along with the award and the team success, junior college baseball has also helped Lieurance grow as a player and as a person.
“It’s helped me immensely as a player. In high school, you can get by throwing some balls down the middle, but [JuCo baseball] has helped me realize that you can’t get away with those things and that you need to work very hard each and every day to compete at the highest level. It’s just helped me a lot mechanically and mentally about pitching. It’s taken my game to new heights,” Lieurance said.
Those are just some of things that helped Lieurance get that coveted Division I offer from his favorite state program: the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa offered Lieurance right after his first start of the year for NIACC.
“Over the winter break, my velocity got up to 94. My coach was sending stuff out to schools. Iowa got really interested and then I went out my first start and I think I had 9 or 10 Ks and didn’t give up a run and I got up to 94 again velocity-wise and they must have liked it,” Lieurance said. “They called me the next day.”
Lieurance accepted the offer to play at Iowa starting in the 2016-17 school year and a lot of that had to do with Iowa always being his number one choice.
“That’s the school I’ve always wanted to got to,” Lieurance said about Iowa. “It’s close to home. It’s about 45 minutes from home and everything I need is right there. I grew up a Hawks fan and I get to go to the football games on Saturdays. I get to wear gold and Iowa across my chest. It’s more of a pride thing than anything else.”
With all of the success he has had in high school and junior college, Lieurance will look to contribute right away to the Iowa program. To go along with his big fastball and great use of off-speed pitches, Lieurance will look to use his less-noticeable pitching characteristics to help him have success at Iowa.
“[I’m] very competitive,” Lieurance said. “I really don’t care who’s in that box. I don’t care what his stats are or how big he is or how far he can hit a baseball. I’m gonna give you the best I’ve got and whatever happens happens.”
That competitiveness should help Lieurance in the transition from junior college to Division I, which for some would be nerve-racking, but not for him.
“It would be the same as going from high school to here,” Lieurance said about the transition. “It’s gonna be different obviously but I just feel like I’ll adapt. I think I’ll be ready to go.”
Although he’s had a lot of personal success that has helped him get to Iowa, he hasn’t done it all by himself. Lieurance says his coaches at NIACC have helped him a lot, but his high school coach and his parents made the biggest difference for him.
“When I was a freshman in high school, even all the way up through my senior year, [my high school coach] was very hard on me, pushing me to be my best whether it’s in school or on the baseball field,” Lieurance said. “Obviously, my parents [helped me]as well. They have been a huge inspiration to me.”
Derek Lieurance made a risky decision in choosing junior college over Western Illinois, and it ultimately paid off, as he earned a scholarship to play baseball at Iowa. Whether he makes his way into the starting rotation, or comes out of the bullpen like Craig Kimbrel, the player he compares himself to, Lieurance will make a big impact in the Big Ten in the future.
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