One of the greatest players in South Carolina baseball history hailed from Goose Creek’s Stratford High School.
Junior pitcher Brandon Hester isn’t quite the prospect that Justin Smoak was in 2005, but Stratford coach John Chalus, who helped mold Smoak into an All-American and still coaches the Knights, believes the 6-foot-7, 190-pounder has a lot of upside.
Hester, who is 4-0 this season, committed to the Gamecocks last year. In addition to his work on the mound, he also plays right field and third base for the Knights. He’s versatile enough that Chalus already has designs on using him at shortstop next season.
“He’s really starting to mature,” Chalus said. “At the beginning of this year he was really young, but at this year has progressed, he’s stepped up in some key situations.
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“He’s athletic enough that he can probably play anywhere in the field.However, the right-hander was recruited by the Gamecocks as a pitcher. He’s been dominant on the mound thus far, throwing three pitches for strikes with regularity.
“He’s so tall and long that we always joke that he’s not throwing from 60 feet, six inches,” Chalus said. “He’s throwing from 50 feet, six inches. By the time he releases his ball, he’s much closer to the plate than the other pitchers that we have. So, the ball seems faster and gets up on you quicker.
“The angle of the pitch is different. You have to be a much better hitter to make contact off him. He’s throwing downhill with more angle. His pitches don’t flatten out like they do for other guys.”
Hester can pitch with finesse, but he’s more of a power pitcher right now, Chalus said. His velocity lingers in the mid-80s, though he was pitching harder by the end of the 2010 season than he is right now.
The Stratford coaching staff believes he has the potential to be throwing in the 90s by the time he sets foot on campus at USC. His progression was limited by bout of mononucleosis before his sophomore campaign and another sickness before this season started.
“We’re going to try and put some weight on him in the offseason,” Chalus said. “He’ll have to do that at South Carolina, so we’re going to try and help him do that before he gets there. He’s skinny, but he’s still in high school. He’s got a chance to fill out once he gets to college.”
Hester, who also plays basketball for the Knights, was always interested in attending an SEC school. Once that opportunity materialized, he jumped on it.
“I think he just wanted to play at an SEC school,” Chalus said. “He was lucky enough to get the scholarship offer he wanted.”