Sam Gillikin is holding out hope that he gets to return home to Hoover for the SEC baseball tournament this month.
Gillikin, a 2012 graduate of Hoover High School, was a highly-touted baseball recruit, batting .453 in his senior year with six home runs and 36 RBIs. He now plays baseball at Auburn, where he has contributed a .159 average as of April 18 in a pinch-hitting role for the Tigers.
“My personal season has not been at all how I’ve wanted it to be,” he said. “Things are starting to pick up on a team level, though. We’re trying to think one game, one series at a time and hopefully we’ll get [to the championship].”
Auburn wasn’t the only place that had interest in Gillikin coming out of high school. The 2012 Hoover Area Player of the Year committed to Auburn early on in high school, and never wavered on that commitment.
However, he was nearly chosen in the first round of the MLB draft by both the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks, and eventually turned down a second-round offer from the Chicago Cubs to play in one of the most elite leagues in college sports.
“Being able to play in the SEC is special,” he said. “They treat us like big-leaguers when we’re on the road. The atmosphere and talent are special.”
Less than a year removed from wrapping up his stellar career at Hoover, Gillikin has been comfortable at Auburn since his first day as a Tiger.
“Nothing about Auburn has come as a surprise to me,” he said. “I came in more prepared than I need to be. Hoover prepared me for the next level, no doubt about it.”
For four other SEC baseball players, a berth in the conference tournament would also be a return home to Hoover.
Mississippi State’s Sam Frost, a 2009 graduate of Hoover, was a member of the Bulldog team that left the Met last year as conference champions.
Mikey White and Colton Freeman, both from Spain Park High School, are freshmen at Alabama. While Freeman is sitting out for the year, White has started every game for the Tide infield and held a .236 batting average as of April 18.
Chris Ellis, also a Spain Park grad, is in his second year as a pitcher at Ole Miss. Ellis had a 5-2 career record as of April 18 with the Rebels.
Gillikin hopes, like the four other Hoover products playing SEC baseball, that he gets to come back home and help his team win a conference championship.
He knows getting there won’t come easily, but with his help, Auburn is looking to rise to the occasion and make it to its fourth straight appearance in the SEC championship tournament, which will be held May 21-26.
“I learned at Hoover to play the game hard,” Gillikin said. “Do the right things on and off the field. If you play hard, good things will happen.”