When Robert Hassell was a freshman, it looked he would play college baseball at Tennessee.
But things changed a year later and the Independence senior signed a national letter of intent with Vanderbilt, the NCAA champion, on Wednesday.
Classmates Slater Schield (Union baseball), Lauren Spaanstra (Middle Tennessee State soccer) and Josie Bond (Christian Brothers softball) also signed their letters early.
Hassell committed to UT as a freshman, but decommitted after coach Dave Serrano resigned in 2017.
“I didn’t really have a coach up there and Vandy got on me really quick,” Hassell said. “(Vandy coach Tim) Corbin wanted us to come up there and he toured us. It was actually the day before the Super Regionals, so that was a pretty big deal.”
Hassell said it was an easy decision to sign with such a successful program, especially since it’s so close to home.
A center fielder and left-handed pitcher, Hassell was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for Tennessee in May.
He hit .423 with 14 homers, 36 RBIs and 22 stolen bases last season. On the mound, he went 5-2 with a 1.07 earned run average and 113 strikeouts in 59 innings. His fastball has been clocked at 93 mph.
“I think (Vandy) sees me in the outfield,” said Hassell, who is 6-foot-2. “I think I can help them in multiple places. If they see me pitching, then I could definitely help them there. I could help them in the field: outfield, first base, wherever.”
Hassell is drawing lots of attention from major-league scouts for the 2020 draft.
“I’d say about half the teams have come already to my house and kind of talked and shown interest,” Hassell said. “It’s kind of a family decision. It’s a little bit too early now to know. There are definitely factors: what round, obviously, there’s the money factor and all that.”
Hassell played in six big-league ballparks in summer all-star tournaments and events: Chicago (Wrigley Field), Tampa Bay, San Diego, Los Angeles, Arizona and Cleveland.
“Seeing a fifth of the 30 in a summer is pretty amazing,” Hassell said. “Tampa Bay was my favorite.”
Hassell led the Eagles (26-13) to their first state tournament appearance in Class AAA.
“Hopefully, we do that this year again, too, and hopefully we win it,” Hassell said. “That’s the goal.”
Eagles coach Mike McLaury praised Hassell as a good teammate with a strong work ethic.
“Vanderbilt’s getting a good player, one of the better players in the country, and he’s going to one of the better programs in the country,” McLaury said.
Schield batted .300 with seven stolen bases and 17 walks as a shortstop.
“(Union) wants me in the middle infield,” Schield said. “I’ve always wanted to play college baseball.”
Schield has come a long way since arriving at Independence.
“From where he started his freshman year and probably didn’t weigh 100 pounds to the player he’s turned into,” McLaury said. “He’d half to crow-hop it to get (the ball) over there. Now, he’s defensively one of the better shortstops in our league and Middle Tennessee area.”
Bond is a three-year starter who has played second base, shortstop, and center field. A left-handed slap hitter with great speed, she batted .400 last season.
All-District-11-AAA the past two seasons, she was selected to the all-academic team by the Middle Tennessee Softball Coaches Association in 2018.
“I’m most likely going to play middle infield (at Christian Brothers), but if they need me in the outfield, I’ll probably go to the outfield,” Bond said.
Spaanstra led Independence with seven assists and she scored one goal.
The outside back ranked in the top four for career games (104) and minutes (4,030). She started a school-record 59 games.
“If I had a mileage tracker on her, she probably would have doubled what most everybody else on the field did as we required a lot of her to go up and down the field to play both offense and defense,” Eagles coach David Cordero said. “Excellent player for us. We’re truly going to miss her, but the Blue Raiders are getting a good one.”