As its former players move on to the next level, it’s becoming more and more apparent why Hernando High has become one of the most successful programs in the state.
Last week, shortstop Christian Arroyo was plucked straight out of high school in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Already a University of Florida signee, Arroyo may end up spurning the Gators for a contract with the San Francisco Giants.
Arroyo wasn’t the only Leopard set to attend a Division I school. Brandon Lawson is headed to USF, and another alum is bound for college baseball’s highest ranks, as well.
Ian Townsend, who graduated from Hernando in 2011 and has spent the past two years playing at St. Johns River State College, signed with East Carolina University.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to play D-I baseball since I knew D-I baseball existed,” Townsend said. “Getting to play all the other huge schools like UNC, NC State, Rice, that’ll be pretty awesome.
“ECU gets a pretty high number of draft picks, so I feel like I’ve got a chance to get drafted in the next year or two.”
A four-time All-County selection over a five-year prep career that included three seasons at Hernando Christian Academy, Townsend was consistently one of the top hitters in the county.
A natural righty yet a left-handed batter, Townsend combined for a .405 average, 32 doubles, 10 triples, 14 home runs, 102 runs batted in and 148 scored over his 129 high school games.
He continued to shine at the plate in his two campaigns as the starting right fielder for Vikings in Palatka.
As a freshman, he posted a modest .257 average, with 11 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 19 RBI and 28 scored over 46 games.
This past season he evolved to the point that he batted third in the Vikings’ lineup. He improved to .280, totaling 10 doubles, a triple and nine homers, with 33 RBI and 39 runs across 52 contests.
St. Johns River captured the Mid-Florida Conference this year, its first conference title since 1977.
“I expected the competition to be good. It was tough. It got me ready for ECU, D-I,” Townsend said. “I got a lot better. I matured a lot.”
Townsend said ECU was the third D-I school to speak with him and the first to show legitimate interest.
The Pirate program stood out, and Townsend compared their hitting coach to the one at St. Johns River, Will Coggin.
“I only went on one other visit, to Flagler, but I got invited on a visit to Bethune-Cookman. I didn’t go on that,” Townsend said. “I kind of liked ECU from the start. I decided to accept their offer pretty quick.
“The area is really baseball-oriented and there’s a lot of tradition there. It’s a pretty big town (Greenville, N.C.). It’s a lot better than Palatka.”
The Pirates, a Conference USA member, finished up 31-26. Since 1999, they’ve been one of the better team in the country, with 12 NCAA Regional appearances and three regional titles during that span.
Townsend is seeking a degree in business, but for the moment his business is on the diamond.
Three Pirates were selected in last weekend’s draft, as high as the 147th pick. Townsend hopes that’s a sign of things to come.
“Getting drafted would be the top one,” Townsend said of his goals. “Next would be graduating with a four-year degree. Maybe set some records there; get my name on a board.”