To truly appreciate the most improbable journey in Central Section baseball this season, you have to go back another 114 years.
That’s when the sport was first played at Porterville High.
And that’s how long it took for the Panthers to win their first section title.
Then there’s the most recent three-week journey to consider: Porterville, the 13th seed, bouncing the No. 1, 4, 5 and 6 seeds – the latest a 7-3 conquest of Selma behind the pitching and hitting of junior left-hander Jacob Hernandez for the cherished Division III plaque at Rawhide Ballpark on a 92-degree Memorial Day.
It was fitting that the 17-15 Panthers would close this ride on a toasty day.
My, oh, my, how they got hot when it mattered, beating No. 4 Madera South 6-1, No. 5 Reedley 6-5 and No. 1 Kerman 4-2 – all on those teams’ home fields – before plucking No. 6 Selma on the neutral venue, home of the Visalia Rawhide, the Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Could coach Mike Hill possibly have seen this coming after placing third in the East Yosemite League with an 8-7 record?
“Actually, yes,” said the school’s 1983 graduate and a former catcher at College of the Sequoias and Fresno State.
He noted that the Panthers won four of their last five league games, giving up one or no runs in three of them. And the last of those wins, 10-1 over intracity rival Monache, was required to advance into the playoffs because of a district policy demanding a .500 or better record overall or in league.
“We started catching rhythm,” he said, “pitching well and playing defense.
Key to the pitching was Hernandez, who beat Madera South, Kerman and Selma with complete games.
He gave up eight hits to the 19-12 Bears and found good fortune when Richie Salinas’ bullet with two runners on in the second inning was caught by third baseman Derek Harris and turned into a double play, and when a Salinas 390-foot drive with two on base in the fifth was run down by center fielder Jacob Haas.
It was about then when Hill went to the mound to yank Hernandez.
Didn’t happen, but only after this exchange:
Hill: “That’s it.”
Hernandez: “Coach, I want to win this, please don’t.”
Hernandez rewarded the boss by retiring his final seven batters – the last four via strikeout, including the three in the seventh on 10 pitches.
That inspired a behind-the-mound dog pile for a school that had appeared in two section finals previously, according to historian Bob Barnett – losing 11-0 to Hanford in 1925 and 5-2 to Coalinga in 1974. Further, the Panthers returned no starters from a 20-9 team in 2015 that tied Tulare Western for the EYL title.
“We were playing for the community and everyone who played for Porterville High baseball before us,” said Hernandez, who also tripled, singled, drove in two runs and scored twice.
Jordan Dominguez calmed the Panthers with 3 1/3 innings of shutout relief. But, by then, Porterville also had received two RBIs on a double and single from Joe Valdez, and sacrifice flies from Isaiah Gomez and Daniel Alviso.
Selma’s Anthony Brooks doubled, and Klayton Carrasco and Dominguez singled before Haas pilfered Salinas on the warning track in left-center in the play of the game – and, perhaps, in history for Porterville High.
Porterville 7, Selma 3
WP: Jacob Hernandez (9-6, CG, 9Ks, 1BB). LP: Richie Salinas. P, Jacob Haas 2R; Hernandez 2-4, 3B, 2RBI, 2R; Joe Valdez 2-4, 2B, 2RBI; Derek Harris 2-3, 2R. S, Josh Mares 1-3, SB; Anthony Brooks 2B, R; Klayton Carrasco 2-4; Salinas 2B; Jordon Garcia 1-3, RBI.