SUMTER --- It was seemingly appropriate that when the John Rateree Memorial Most Valuable Player award for the 2016 South Carolina American Legion State Tournament was presented, Kershaw County infielder Josh Hernandez was on the receiving end of the plaque.
The presentation came a few hundred feet from the painting of Sumter native and former New York Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson which adorns the wall in left center field at Riley Park. In 1960, Richardson became the first and only player to win the most valuable players award in the World Series after having played for a losing team as the Yankees fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games.
Hernandez, a 2016 graduate of A.C. Flora High School and a UNC-Wilmington signee, decided to join Post 17 this season.
In five games at Riley Park in the state tourney, the P-17 third baseman/second baseman had nine hits in 21 at-bats for a .429 average. He scored eight runs, belted a pair of doubles while driving in two runs. In the field, Hernandez had eight putouts and 10 assists on 19 chances.
One person who agreed with the selection committee’s decision and hardly batted an eye when the award went to Hernandez was Post 17 head coach Tyler Pike.
“I don’t think anyone can honestly say that they were surprised by that,” he said. “Honestly, Josh hits the heck out of the baseball.
“I thought that he deserved it but I was I was thinking that maybe that they would give it (to a Florence player) because they won the tournament. But there’s no doubt that there wasn’t a better hitter in this tournament than Josh.”
The MVP honor was the second of the summer for Hernandez who was named the most valuable player for the South Carolina Select All-Star Team following their two-game series with the North Carolina Select squad last month in Cary, N.C.
Who would have gone in game two?: Had Post 17 won Wednesday morning’s game and forced a second and deciding contest for the state title, Pike’s pitching options would have been limited. Or, depending on who he would turn to for an inning or two of mound work, expanded.
The most obvious choice to have started a second game Wednesday afternoon would have been Brock Robinson, an infielder who has pitched as a starter as well as a reliever for the 17ers as well as at Lugoff-Elgin High School and who had not taken the mound in the state tournament.
After that, it would have been a hodgepodge as to who could have given Pike an inning or two with even Hernandez’s name being tossed around.
T.J. to the rescue: After having seen spot duty, mostly as a reliever this season, T.J. White became the 17ers’ work horse out of the bullpen once arriving at Riley Park.
The right-hander from Westwood High School joined the team for the first time this year and was reunited with Pike, his former junior varsity coach at Westwood.
White appeared in four of KC’s five state tournament games and went 1-0.
White threw 9.1 innings, allowed one earned run for a 0.99 earned run average while yielding eight hits with five strikeouts and four walks.
Pike said White provided quality innings as well as a change of pace on the mound in an effective stay in Sumter.
“T.J. gives us a different look from the right-hand side,” Pike said. “He was awesome (on Wednesday) and it was exactly what you need in a game like this where you have guys who are trying to be aggressive and then, you bring in a change of pace guy who throws strikes and gets outs.
“As a coach, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Looking to the future: Only winning a state championship will be able to top what Tyler Pike, assistant coaches Stephen Carmon, Jack LaFrage and the Post 17 squad did in their first year together.
As team members handed in their uniforms along the third base line against the backdrop of the Florence players, coaches and fans taking pictures with the state championship trophy, Pike was already talking about 2017.
“We have some guys returning,” he answered when asked who the 17ers were losing from this team. “If we get these guys back and then, if we get some boys from our area ... there are still some guys from our county who I really want (to come) out. Hopefully, we’ll get these boys out next year and we’ll make a run again.”