Back in 2014, Nick Sandlin burst onto the prep baseball scene to have one of the finest seasons of any player in Columbia County history. He didn't come out of nowhere. He was a known commodity, but he was primarily known as a scrappy infielder who was a solid contact hitter.
Before the 2014 season, he made an adjustment in his pitching release point that propelled him into being one of the top pitchers in Georgia. Now a sidearm pitcher, he went 13-0 on the mound with a 1.44 ERA his junior season. As a senior, he went 11-2 with a staggering 1.05 ERA as he led Greenbrier to a state title. Over his final two seasons, he went 24-2 with a 1.19 ERA and 211 strikeouts in 153 innings of work. He also hit .345 those two seasons with 16 doubles, 4 triples, and 44 RBI.
That incredible two-year run caught the attention of plenty of colleges. One of the first D-I Programs to show interest in Sandlin was Southern Miss, and he quickly accepted a scholarship to play for the Golden Eagles.
Last season, no one really knew what to expect from Sandlin. After all, he was a 5-foor-10, 155-pound freshman making the jump to major college baseball. I'd venture to guess that he far exceeded any expectations the Southern Miss coaching staff had for him. He earned freshman All-American honors while setting a school freshman record with 12 saves. He also posted a 3-3 mark with a solid 2.38 ERA as the Eagles closer. He also struck out 44 batters in 41.3 innings.
It's always a thrill for coaches when they recruit a player and he comes in and has early success. Well, if they were thrilled with Sandlin's performance last season, they must be ecstatic so far this season. Through 20 games, the Eagles are 16-4 overall and 3-0 in Conference USA. Sandlin has appeared in 8 games and has posted a 4-0 record with 2 saves. In 15.2 innings of work he has fanned 25 batters and walked only 6. He also has a perfect 0.00 ERA. That's right, he hasn't given up a single earned run in 8 appearances. In fact, Sandlin has only yielded one extra base hit this season (a double) and opponents are hitting a minuscule .135 versus the former Greenbrier star.
If he continues at this pace, Sandlin might see his name on a few All-American teams at the end of the season.
Last season, Sandlin's older brother, Jake, transferred to Southern Miss to spend his final collegiate season with Nick. He was certainly no token throw-in to persuade his younger brother to come to Hattiesburg. The elder Sandlin was an All Conference USA Selection after hitting .353 with 17 doubles, 9 home runs, and 39 RBI. Jake spent his first three seasons playing at Georgia College and State University where he was a D-II All-American. Nick is back in Milledgeville after accepting a position as an assistant coach for the Bobcats.
A couple weeks ago, I gave a rundown on the terrific start several county natives were enjoying during the early portion of the college baseball season. One of those players was former Greenbrier shortstop Connor Hoover. Since then, Hoover hasn't slowed down; in fact, he picked up the pace, helping lead North Georgia to a 21-4 mark and a No. 1 national ranking.
At Greenbrier, Hoover was an excellent defensive infielder and table-setter. He was at the top of the order to get on base and let the power guys drive him in. Hoover still gets on base, but he's also become the power guy driving in the runs, and his numbers illustrate that he's getting the job done.
Hoover ranks eighth in the Peach Belt Conference with a .410 batting average. He also has 41 hits (fifth), 38 runs (first), nine doubles (sixth), nine home runs (fourth), 35 RBI (fifth), 24 walks (first), .520 on-base percentage (fourth), .830 slugging percentage (first) and 83 bases (first).