As a four-year varsity star in baseball and a three-year standout in football, Paso Robles High’s Thomas Bernal has become something of a known commodity to San Luis Obispo County prep sports fans.
The question was which sport he’d choose to pursue in college. Bernal gave that answer Monday, announcing his commitment to play baseball at the University of Kentucky.
“The last few years, I’ve thought about if I had to give one up going into college, which one I’d miss the most,” Bernal said. “I don’t know if I could live without baseball.”
This season, Bernal, a shortstop who has also seen significant time as a pitcher, is batting a team-high .430 for the Bearcats (17-11, 13-5 PAC 7), who clinched the PAC 7 championship this past week. His 27 RBI rank second in the league, while his four home runs are tied for third. On the mound, he has established a team-leading 3.83 ERA in 562⁄3 innings. Bernal has earned all-league and all-county honors on the diamond in each of the past three seasons.
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The Wildcats will likely use him as an all-around infielder rather than on the mound, he said. He visited the program in March, taking in a game against Mississippi.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity for him,” Paso Robles coach Derek Stroud said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have him for four years, and he’s just continued to grow as a baseball player.
“He’ll find a way to contribute somewhere,” Stroud said of Bernal’s versatility. “Whatever role he’ll have, he won’t let the coach or his teammates down. He’s the ultimate team player.”
Bernal suffered a cheek injury this past week after taking a groundball to the face, but will be able to play in the upcoming CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs, he said. Prior to the Bearcats’ regular-season finale — after sustaining the injury, and with the league banner already in hand — Bernal had started every varsity game at the school since his freshman year. He has also spent time working with Sean Berry, the Houston Astros’ batting coach and a Paso Robles resident.
Heading into this past football season, conversely, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Bernal was also a preseason selection to the ESPN RISE CalHiSports.com all-Ventura/Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo counties team. That came after picking up all-PAC 7 and all-county first-team distinction on the gridiron as a junior, although his senior year was ultimately cut short due to injuries.
The Wildcats’ coaching staff particularly impressed Bernal, he said. Kentucky, which has made six NCAA Tournament appearances and won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title in 2006, is currently 26-21, including a 9-15 mark in the SEC. The SEC has placed at least one of its members in the College World Series for 24 of the past 25 years, and has sent 38 teams to the CWS since 1990.
“I’ve always wanted to play at the highest level I could,” Bernal said, “and playing in the SEC is about as good as it can get.
“It’s a perfect situation, and I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Bernal, who’ll start classes in Lexington, Ky. in August, is undecided on what he’ll study. Academically, he’s presently in the top 25 of his class at Paso Robles.
“As good of an athlete as he is, he’s probably a better person,” Stroud said. “He’s just what you want your team to be like, what you’d like your own kid to be like. He does things right, and it’s great to have your best player have those attributes.”