Morgan Hernandez didn’t want to go the Division I route. She wanted to play softball right away in college.

With seven years of travel ball experience, the Vintage High senior did start with bigger schools. She visited UC Davis, North Dakota and Dartmouth. But the program that wanted her most, and offered her the best chance at being a four-year starter, was Long Island University Post in New York.

It was also the one farthest away.

The first baseman visited the NCAA Division II school – which is built on land purchased from the daughter of breakfast cereal inventor C.W. Post – with her mother, Jill, in August 2016 and felt at home despite being 2,900 miles away.

Two Wednesdays ago, Hernandez signed a national letter of intent to join the Pioneers next fall.

She had scheduled a visit to a recruiting camp at Dartmouth, a prestigious Division I Ivy League university in New Hampshire. But LIU Post showed more interest and had a camp slightly sooner, so she went there first.

“I ended up loving it and never wanted to leave,” Hernandez recalled during a signing party Monday in the Vintage Career Center. “Even when I was at the Ivy League campus, I just kept thinking about going back (to LIU Post). They said it was the hottest week they’d had in New York, but I still loved it. It was so fun.

“UC Davis had already picked up a first baseman, so I would have pretty much had to DH (be a designated hitter) until my senior year. When I went to Long Island, they said I could play first base all four years and hit all four years and that what I wanted to do, which was just amazing. I wanted a small school with a big school feeling, and it just fit.

“It’s such a rush to work for something like a scholarship and earn it.”

The Pioneers’ 19th-year head coach, Jamie Apicella, was drafted out of LIU Post by Hernandez’s favorite team, the San Francisco Giants, in 1994 and played in their minor league system.

“It was pretty cool to connect like that,” Hernandez said.

Apicella’s first assistant coach, Carla Campagna, is in her fifth year on the staff after starring for one of LIU Post’s East Coast Conference opponents. She was the one who recruited Hernandez and showed her and Jill around campus.

“I like how at home (the head coach) made me feel, but I’ve had more communication with the assistant coach,” Hernandez said. “She treats me really nicely and is always checking up on me. It’s really nice to be cared about instead of going to this big school where you’re just a student in the crowd.”

Jill Hernandez told attendees at the signing party how she felt about the coaches and her daughter being on the other coast.

“Morgan asked what types of bats they used,” she recalled, “and (Campagna) said ‘Louisville Sluggers.’ Morgan said ‘Oh, so do I’ and she said, ‘Yeah, we know.’ The head coach is very calm. The assistant coach calls them ‘good cop, bad cop’ and that he’s the good cop. She’s a little firecracker. Meeting those coaches, it felt right.

“I’m not a crier, but I went to the post office and dropped off Morgan’s personal statement and almost broke down to the postmaster. I’m going to miss my best friend,” she added, too emotional to continue.

Hernandez made the All-Monticello Empire League First Team and was a finalist for Napa County Offensive Player of the Year this past spring, even though the Crushers missed the playoffs for the first time in six years.

She and Lexi Vavricka – the 2016 County Player of the Year who will be playing for Solano Community College this spring with former Vintage standout Baylee Robben – led the team with 20 RBIs each. Hernandez was third with a .414 batting average behind Vavricka and Joelle Aiello, now with Valley City State’s NAIA program in North Dakota.

Hernandez added two home runs, six doubles, 29 hits, 11 runs scored, eight walks, and just seven strikeouts in 80 plate appearances. One of her homers came during a 3 for 4 day in a big 8-5 win at Armijo.

“I’m really happy for Morgan,” Vintage head coach Saanen Kerson said, adding that she also looks forward to having her for a fourth varsity season before she goes.

“What’s really great about her batting is she not only can hit the long ball and do really dramatic things in games, she also consistently gets base hits every game. That’s a rare type of hitter in high school,” Kerson said. “There have been long stretches where she’s had one of the top batting averages in the league.

“She’s a really, really excellent offensive player. She has a really good eye. She understands where the strike zone is and she does not chase bad pitches. It’s a rare, rare thing to see her swing at anything out of the zone. She’s not a selfish batter; she’ll take a walk. She understands her job is to get on base, and she’ll find a way to do it. She’s also very solid at first base.”

The Crusher’s father, Ray Hernandez, said at the signing party that finding the right school was an arduous process that paid off.

“We have flown all over the country already to watch her play, to Florida, Colorado – and Southern California, it seems, every other weekend, and again this weekend,” he said. “But it allowed her to get the exposure, to see many different schools and interface with a lot of different coaching and players.

“Jill’s parents and my parents, who live in Sacramento, and Jill’s sister and my brother in Seattle – they’ve all been part of the whole journey, going to her games since Morgan was 12. Of course, the two most instrumental people were Brandi and Cindy Macias of the All American Sports Academy (her east Contra Costa County-based travel team).

“To go all the way to New York is a big stretch, but LIU Post welcomed her with open arms. I think it was a good choice. We’re very proud of her.”

Vintage Athletic Director Cam Neal told the crowd the signing was special to him because of how active Hernandez’s parents have been in the Vintage booster club, ever since her brother Alex – now at Oregon State – played football and baseball for the Crushers.

Before little sister heads East to major in health science and pursue a career in nursing, she wants to go out with a strong senior season.

“I still have to work hard in practice every day here, but it’s a relief to know where I’m going to college and know about my future,” she said. “I’ll probably get homesick, but I think I’ll get through it. I’ll have a second family with my team and coaches over there.”

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Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.