Sandifer readies for promising year

Tim Laurent, Sports Writer

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The past few years have seen the FMU Patriots baseball team fall just short of glory, but this year senior pitcher Don Sandifer believes they have the support, facilities, and the team to improve.

Sandifer, a sociology major, showed appreciation for the university and for his teammates.

“I enjoy everything about the program at Francis Marion,” Sandifer said. “I couldn’t ask for better facilities, coaches, or teammates. We all enjoy being around each other and you always feel supported.”

The facilities to which Sandifer referred are a part of the brand new $11 million Griffin Athletic Complex completed last spring. The team opened up its new ballpark by hosting and beating in-state powerhouse South Carolina.

Sandifer said that beating the Gamecocks was a high he’d never experienced but it was a night that couldn’t have gone any better for him and his team.

“Last year when we beat South Carolina it felt like winning a state championship,” he said. “It was an overwhelming feeling on a perfect night. The crowd was rowdy and was the largest crowd I’ve ever played in front of. The way our team was supported during and after the game was a special feeling. Kids were on the field after the game wanting our autographs and giving us high fives. It was just a perfect night in a great environment. We all were thinking before the game how great it would be to open up the new stadium and beat the two-time defending national champs.”

Sandifer also recalled the way the game ended, calling it “special.”

“The game came down to the last pitch and when it was over, everyone just took off for the mound, almost like winning a World Series,” he said. “Our emotions just took over and it’s really hard to explain the feelings we all had on that perfect night.”

Recently, Sandifer has had to watch his team come up empty in its quest to reach the Division II World Series. Last year the Patriots made it to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional in Mount Olive, N.C., but lost to Catawba College in a game that would have sent the Pats to the World Series.

Sandifer said the key to this year’s team is good health and focus.

“For our team to improve from last year, we need everyone to stay healthy and to be on board doing their job, not being selfish players,” the senior pitcher said. “We have the players to go all the way. If we have the drive and determination, we should be able to do big things this year.”

When the Patriots take the field on February 1 against Claflin University, they’ll be kicking off their first full season in their new home.

But as Sandifer and any collegiate athlete knows, the season doesn’t start with the commencement of the first game.

“Every off-season my high school baseball coach works with me to make sure my pitching mechanics are where they need to be for the upcoming season,” he said. “I do a lot of long-tossing to keep my arm in shape and able to go the distance to throw late in games. I also do a lot of weightlifting and running so I don’t get tired during the games.”

Sandifer has seen success in his time at FMU. In 2011, he was named the Peach Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year. Sandifer had 11 wins and only three losses that year, with a low 2.33 ERA. Sandifer also threw a no-hitter that season.

Last year he worked more out of the bullpen, starting only seven games while working 13 in relief. This was good enough to earn him third on the team in saves, strikeouts and fifth in innings pitched.

Sandifer believes in his team and was adamant about the importance of having support from fans.

“Fans are missing out on some really good baseball,” he said. “Every year we have players drafted and even this year we have players who have a great chance of going to play professional baseball. If you want to see 90 mph fastballs, 400+ foot homeruns and great defensive plays, come out and watch Francis Marion play baseball. You won’t be disappointed. If not, you’re going to miss out on watching really good baseball players play the game the right way.”

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Sandifer readies for promising year