High School Sports

This Coast baseball star can do it all. Why aren't D1 programs beating down his door?

Vancleave's Bailee Hendon takes some swings in the batting cage during practice on April 4, 2018. Hendon is batting .519 for the Bulldogs.
Vancleave's Bailee Hendon takes some swings in the batting cage during practice on April 4, 2018. Hendon is batting .519 for the Bulldogs. amccoy@sunherald.com file

Bailee Hendon has put up staggering numbers while helping lead Vancleave baseball to its first trip to the state title round, making it difficult to grasp why many of the region's top college programs haven't followed through with a scholarship offer.

Consider the stats:

  • At the plate, the left-hander is hitting .519 with five homers, 13 doubles and 35 RBIs.

  • In center field, he covers a wide swath of ground and has a strong arm. His running catch on a deep drive against West Lauderdale on May 4 helped keep Vancleave perfect in the postseason.

  • On the base paths, he has 20 stolen bases as one of the top base runners in South Mississippi.

  • On the pitcher's mound, he is 11-0 with a 0.67 ERA in 13 appearances. He has thrown three no-hitters, has 98 strikeouts and 15 walks in 63 innings.

Hendon signed with Jones County Junior College, one of the nation's top junior college programs, in November, choosing the Bobcats over his lone Division I offer at the moment — Nicholls.

Considering the incredible senior campaign he's pieced together, one would think that many of the region's top programs would be falling over themselves to award a scholarship offer to Hendon.

That's not been the case so far.

Hendon hasn't received a Division I offer this year and seems content to land on the JCJC campus for the 2018-19 school year.

Hendon, who is listed at 6-foot-4, is a full academic qualifier, meaning he can play one season at JCJC and leave for a Division I program.

Vancleave (27-7) will open the Class 4A state title series against New Hope (29-5) at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Game 2 is set for 7 p.m. Friday.

A closer look

Hendon is coached at Vancleave by former Southern Miss All-American pitcher Daniel Best, who has his own theory on why his star player hasn't received a major offer yet.

“Sometimes a Division I program will back off after you sign with a junior college,” he said. “I personally think that Southern Miss, just being local and close, really likes him a lot. They have a good relationship with JCJC and he could go there for a year or two years. They get a lot of players from Jones. Southeastern Louisiana said the same thing, that he could benefit from going a year (at JCJC).”

Hendon has the talent to contribute on the college level in a lot of areas, but playing the outfield may be his quickest way onto the field.

“I don't know (why more schools haven't pursued him),” Best said. “Personally, I think it's maybe because they may want his pitching velocity up. I'm just guessing. Offensively, he's better than a lot of guys that sign Division I and has the speed and the build and all that. That's what you look for in a D1 athlete. I think he can play on the D1 level as a freshman.”

USM and Southeastern Louisiana are the Division I programs who have shown the most interest. There was also a member of the Louisiana Tech staff on hand Thursday when Hendon tossed a complete game to lead Vancleave to a 3-1 win over East Central in Game 1 of Class 4A South State.

In Friday's series-clinching 4-0 win, Hendon was walked three times and finished 1-for-1 with an RBI.

Still growing

What should also pique the interest of college coaches is the fact Hendon still has room to grow and improve.

He has a lanky build and has significantly improved his strength in the last year. A fastball that stays in the low-to-mid 80's should improve with time and he has already shown power to the opposite field at the plate.

“He didn't miss a weight room (session) and he's continued to lift into the season,” Best said. “He's definitely gotten a lot stronger. He's hit five balls out of the park after he didn't hit any last year.”

The good news for Hendon is that Jones County Junior College has become a popular spot to recruit for many of the Southeast's better Division I programs.

JCJC's Tyler Spring, a former Stone High pitcher, signed with Mississippi State earlier this month and there are five former JCJC players on the current USM roster.

“I think if he ends up going to JCJC, they're going to have a hard time keeping him more than one year,” Best said.