Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 22 Normal University

By: Diego Solares
Area Scout, Illinois & Missouri

The Illinois high school baseball season kicks off on March 13, opening day for regular season action under IHSA regulations. Over the next two weeks, leading up to opening day, we’ll be publishing our team previews ahead of the 2023 spring season, touching on programs spanning all state classifications, counting down through the official PBR Illinois Preseason Power 25 Rankings.

Perennially, we’ve submitted a Preseason Questionnaire to high school head coaches across the entire state. Their responses have been flooding in and we’re using the detailed insight they’ve provided in our team-by-team preseason analysis.

Our 2023 preseason coverage continues today.

Team: Normal University
Preseason Rank: No. 22
2022 Record: 30-7
Conference: Central State Eight
IHSA Class: 3A
Head Coach: Steve Paxson


Matt Sauser RHP Normal U-High
2023 Florida State
Eli Kieser INF/RHP Normal U-High
2023 Ball State
Grant Marshall LHP/1B Normal U-High 2023 Rock Valley JC
Tysen Sorensen C Normal U-High 2023 -
Cody Shouse RHP Normal U-High 2023 -
Charlie Vercruysse INF/RHP Normal U-High
2024 Notre Dame
Devan Tupper OF/RHP Normal U-High 2024 -
Cameron Clifton RHP Normal U-High 2024 -


+ OF/LHP Chase Adams (Southern Miss)
+ RHP Jack Bach (Central Michigan)
+ OF/RHP Evan Jones (Western Kentucky)
+ C Evan Kochel (Lincoln Land JC)
+ RHP Jake Swartz (Illinois)


Matt Sauser, RHP, 2023, Florida State commit: Sauser’s long been one of the top arms in the state’s 2023 class and he’ll begin his senior season as the frontline name in the Pioneers’ rotation. A 6-foot-3, 185-pound athlete with an upper-80s to low-90s fastball and three secondaries to pair, Sauser’s arsenal can miss bats at a high level, and he proved to our scouts last year he can work around the zone with his stuff in game. Capable of beating anybody on any given day, Sauser gives the Pioneers a legitimate ace - one they’ll rely on a lot throughout this upcoming season. 

Matt Sauser (5/4/22)


+ 23: The lowest win total the Pioneers have had since head coach Steve Paxson took over seven seasons ago. In that span, U-High has amassed 28 wins, or more, in all but two of his seasons at the helm, and the Pioneers are coming off consecutive 30-plus-win seasons.


The Pioneers have established themselves as a perennial winner under Coach Paxson, having won 194 games in total under over his tenure, which dates back to the 2014-2015 season. Though they’ll need to replace plenty of contributors from a special 2022 class, as highlighted above, this year’s group has the star power and young talent to be a winner yet again.

We already touched on Sauser as this team’s ‘X-Factor,' but the Pioneers have another star senior who's seemingly just scratching his surface as a prospect: INF Eli Kieser. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Ball State commit appeared at our Midwest ProCase earlier this winter, improving in nearly every aspect of his game. He’s a true all-fields type of hitter with polish offensively and can be an asset on the left side of the infield with his glove, too. Expect Kieser to see time on the mound for the Pioneers, something we’ve seen him succeed in over our past looks. All signs point to a big year for Kieser, who’s eager to leave his mark on the Pioneers’ program in his final high school season.

Eli Kieser (2/1/23)

Matching up with Kieser on the left side of the infield is another potential two-way standout for U-High: INF/RHP Charlie Vercruysse (2024; Notre Dame). Vercruysse’s ability to impact the game in multiple ways is what makes him arguably this team’s most valuable player. He’s a dynamic defender at shortstop, proving a quality glove and clear arm strength across the diamond in our looks, and his right-handed bat should be amongst the most productive in this lineup. Like his counterpart, Vercruysse has also impressed us on the mound in the past and it’s possible he sees time there should coach Paxson call his name. A Notre Dame commit that’s one of the state’s top-ranked juniors, Vercruysse is unquestionably set for a huge role in what the Pioneers are trying to achieve in 2023.

Charlie Vercruysse (6/24/22)

U-High will surround their potent trio of upperclassmen with talented pieces that fit their strengths as a team nicely. LHP/1B Grant Marshall (2023; Rock Valley JC) saw success in a relief role last season, and is also a physical 6-foot, 200-pound right-handed hitter that should see regular time at first base. C Tysen Sorensen (2023) is a senior backstop that’s set to see time for U-High behind the plate, showing arm strength (80 mph) from the chute at the Unsigned Senior Showcase earlier this winter. An uncommitted arm who should see time on the mound this spring is RHP Cody Shouse (2023), and we've heard reports that the 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior has ticked up headed into his final season at the IHSA level.

OF/RHP Devan Tupper (2024) is an intriguing two-way prospect who should see time on both sides of the ball this spring. Tupper has always intrigued our scouts, showing all sorts of ease to his game paired with long, loose, and highly projectable 6-foot-2, 170-pound levers. He’s a 6.81 runner with an easy right-handed swing that’s flashed juice before and arm strength from the outfield (88 mph) that’s translated to the mound in our looks too. RHP Cameron Clifton (2024) pounds the strike zone with his arsenal, and the 6-foot-1, 180-pound uncommitted junior has reportedly taken a step forward this off-season, adding even more depth to a team that's shaping up to be full of it.

Devan Tupper (7/16/22)


Replacing a 2022 class that really left their mark on this program won’t be easy, but a few high level returners and several talented young prospects to supplement have the Pioneers heading into this season with momentum. They’ve proven themselves to consistently be a winning program over the past handful of years, and we’re expecting the same from U-High in 2023.

Follow along at @PBRIllinois for continued coverage throughout the high school season.

Find more information on the 2023 Pioneers below:

+ Team Website
Team Schedule
Team Twitter