Casa Grande High School all-league baseball player Hance Smith is ready to take his diamond career and his education to the next step, it will just be in a slightly different direction than originally planned

Even before finishing his high school career last spring, Smith had agreed to play next year at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

But between now and then, coaches Mike Neu and Noah Jackson moved from UOP to the University of California at Berkeley, Neu as head coach and Jackson as his assistant. Smith followed.

“I have a real strong relationship with them,” the player said. “I have a lot of trust in them and they have a lot of trust in me.”

The plan is to have Smith play this spring at Santa Rosa Junior College and transfer to Cal the following year.

Smith is taking nothing for granted.

“I’m not looking past Santa Rosa Junior College,” he explained. “I’m going to take it one step at a time. We are going to have a solid team. No spot is assured. I’m going to have to fight for a spot. I like it that way, it will make me a better player.”

A shortstop on Petaluma’s 2012 Little League All-Star team that finished third in its historic trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Smith was recruited by UOP to be a catcher. He says the coaches want him to do a little bit of everything at Cal, including playing shortstop and pitching.

Splitting time between catcher and shortstop as a senior at Casa Grande, he hit .374 with two home runs, 30 RBIs and 1.003 OPS and six stolen bases in six attempts for a North Bay League championship team.

He was also the Gauchos’ stopper on the pitching mound, saving four games with a 1.27 earned run average. He walked six and struck out 16 in 11 innings of mostly crucial work.

For Smith, the choice was also one of education.

“Cal is a great academic university,” he explained. He plans to major in mathematics to prepare for a career in engineering, although the means might in itself be the end as he follows his father, a high school math teacher, who helped start Hance’s baseball career as the manager of the Little League World Series team.