Big things were expected of Bailee Hendon in his senior year with the Vancleave baseball team, but the numbers are proving better than even the most optimistic Bulldog fans could have expected — on the mound and at the plate.
The senior lefty has been a dominant force for a Vancleave squad that's tied with rival East Central atop the Region 8-4A standings. Hendon threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout on March 29 in a 6-0 win over East Central to help put the Bulldogs in that position.
While that shutout win over East Central was an impressive performance, it wasn't quite up to the standard that he's set for himself over the last month.
Hendon tossed a six-inning no-hitter Friday night in an 11-1 win over Pass Christian, giving him an incredible three no-hitters in his last four starts.
Hendon tossed consecutive no-hitters in games that were shortened by the run rule, Resurrection and St. Stanislaus, and pieced together a run of 15 straight innings without a hit. The streak that came to an end in the fifth inning against East Central.
“I wasn't really thinking about (the streak),” Hendon said. “I was just out there to get the job done. I've got eight guys behind me and I trust them. I was just going in and filling up the zone."
Over his last 24 innings on the mound, Hendon has allowed only two hits.
He hasn't allowed a single earned run in the last 28 innings.
Overall, Hendon is 6-0 with a 0.85 ERA with 53 strikeouts and eight walks in 33 innings.
And then there are the hitting numbers — a .548 batting average with four homers and 26 RBIs.
He also features plenty of speed in the outfield and leads the team with 12 stolen bases.
The 6-foot-4 Hendon, who has signed with Jones County Junior College, seems to have everything you'd want in a young prospect and he's still filling out physically.
“They sky is the limit for him,” Vancleave coach Daniel Best said. “He's got the ability, the speed, the power. He's only going to get better as he goes as long as he learns more and matures more. I think he'll play for a long time, God willing and he stays healthy.”
If Hendon does land at JCJC as planned, he'll enter a program that's produced a long list of players for many of the region's top college teams, but Division I clubs are beginning to show increased interest. Coaches from Southern Miss and Southeastern Louisiana have both shown up to watch him play.
'Completely different guy'
Best, a former All-American closer at Southern Miss, has seen the most progress out of Hendon as a pitcher.
“On the mound, he's been a completely different guy,” Best said. “This year, he's been able to throw games and finish games. Last year, he was unable to finish. This year, he's spotting up all four pitches and doing really good for us.”
Hendon features four pitches — a fastball that tops out near 88 miles per hour, a slider that often serves as his go-to pitch, a curve and a changeup.
At the plate, Hendon brings a calm approach that makes him dangerous out of the three-hole.
“He was our top bat last year, but coming into this year he's seeing the ball really well,” Best said. “He's got a good understanding of the strike zone and doesn't chase a lot of pitches and hits mistakes. He's able to hit any pitch they throw in there, off-speed or fastball. He's got good hand-eye coordination.”
Hendon is just one talented piece of a deep Vancleave squad (16-7, 7-1) that features four other seniors who have signed with community colleges — Hayden Robb (Gulf Coast), Gavin McKerchie (East Mississippi), Evan Keith (East Central) and Colton Hipp (Meridian).
Hipp provides plenty of pop out of the leadoff spot, batting .356 with a team-leading stats of six homers, 11 doubles and 31 RBIs.
McKerchie is 3-2 with a 2.85 ERA in five games.
Robb has also been stellar on the mound, going 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA in seven games.
“We've been playing together since T-ball,” Hendon said. “We're all really good friends and have grown up together.
“I think we can win state if we really get after it, take it one at a game.”
Best believes his team is just beginning to play its best baseball of the season.
“We've been hitting the ball pretty well all season and the pitching has started to step it up the past few weeks,” Best said. “We had a big relief appearance from Justin Stokes (against Pass Christian on Tuesday) where he entered in the fourth inning, had eight strikeouts and gave up only one hit. He's done that the last couple weeks. We hadn't really won that close game, but we've started to do that. We've come together as a team and we're finding a way.”