Nick Sandlin picked up some prestigious hardware this week with a Ferriss Trophy as the state's top college player, but you have to start asking the question of whether he deserves the nation's top college baseball honor.
Sandlin was named this week as one of 25 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the nation's top player.
In Thursday's 2-0 win over UAB in the Conference USA tournament, Sandlin further bolstered his candidacy. The junior right-hander finished off his third complete-game shutout of the season with 12 strikeouts and just one walk. He allowed four hits and retired 14 straight at one point.
USM (40-15) advances to take on UTSA at 12:30 p.m. Friday in a game that will determine a spot in the Conference USA semifinals.
UAB (21-32) got a nice pitching performance from the duo of Ryan Ruggles and Ryan Wesson, but the Blazers were no match for the lanky junior from Georgia.
“We just ran into Nick Sandlin who is just as good as there is,” UAB coach Brian Shoop said.
The stats for Sandlin are becoming more impressive with each week as he pushed his season totals to 134 strikeouts and 15 walks in 95.1 innings.
Sandlin, who is now 9-0, entered Thursday's game with the nation's second leading ERA at 1.25, trailing only John Rooney of Hofstra.
Following the shutout performance at MGM Park, Sandlin has surpassed Rooney with an ERA of 1.13. Rooney now stands at 1.25.
Many national observers consider Auburn's Casey Mize to be the nation's top college pitcher, but his numbers lag behind Sandlin. He is 9-4 with a 2.94 ERA in 14 games with 133 strikeouts and 10 walks in 95 innings.
The Golden Spikes honor typically goes to a position player. Eric Sorenson of D1Baseball.com, who was at MGM Park on Thursday, points to Bren Spillane of Illinois and Florida infielder Jonathan India as being among the top candidates for the trophy.
India is hitting .368 with 16 homers and 41 RBIs for the No. 1 Gators. Spillane is having a huge season with a .398 batting average, 22 homers and 57 RBIs.
In mid-June, four finalists will be announced for the Golden Spikes Award and Sandlin has to be given serious consideration.
“I think he deserves every bit of it,” USM senior outfielder Mason Irby said. “I get to see him play every day and I don't see all these other guys, but I don't see how anyone else can be more deserving of it than him.”
At the very least, Sandlin deserves a close look as the national pitcher of the year.
Whether it was the two-hour weather delay, the 90-degree heat or a bases loaded jam, not much fazed Sandlin on Thursday afternoon.
“If you don't understand how to pitch after what he just did today, you don't get it,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “We missed on so many opportunities (at the plate) and a lesser person on the mound that would have bothered them.
“He understands what his job is and that's to keep the opposition from scoring. Obviously, he did it for nine innings and grateful he did take the mound today.”
Struggles at the plate
Southern Miss managed just five hits Thursday with Irby serving as the only player with multiple hits, finishing 2-for-4 with one run scored.
USM stranded eight runners and UAB left six men on.
UAB's Thomas Johns finished 2-for-3, which was set to play Charlotte in the late game Thursday.