Prep Baseball Report

Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 3 Normal University

By Drew Locascio
Illinois Scouting Director

The Illinois high school baseball season kicks off on March 14, 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 2022 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 2022 preseason coverage continues today.

Team: Normal University
Preseason Rank: No. 3
2021 Record: 32-4
Conference: Central State Eight
IHSA Class: 3A
Head Coach: Steve Paxson


Chase Adams OF/LHP 2022 Southern Miss
Matthew Armstrong MIF 2022 McHenry County CC
Jack Bach RHP/OF
2022 Central Michigan
Carson Beal 1B 2022 Morton JC
Connor Frey RHP 2022
Quincy Hougas RHP 2022 McHenry County CC
Evan Jones OF/RHP 2022 Western Kentucky
Evan Kochel C 2022 Lincoln Land CC
Jake Swartz RHP 2022 Illinois
Eli Kieser INF/RHP 2023
Grant Marshall LHP 2023
Matt Sauser RHP 2023 Iowa
Tysen Sorensen C 2023  
Charlie Vercruysse SS/RHP 2024 Notre Dame


+ Karson Bonaparte, 3B/RHP (2021; Notre Dame)
+ MacCallan Conklin, OF/RHP (2021; Illinois State)
+ Matthew Davenport, OF (2021; Augustana)
+ Connor Herbert, RHP (2021; Augustana)
+ Daniel Mosele, MIF (2021; Heartland CC)
+ Trevor Young, LHP (2021; Southwestern Illinois JC)


87+ mph. Seven arms on the staff each touched 87 mph, or higher, during tryouts this winter. This Pioneers team, as they did last year, possess arguably the deepest, most talented staff in the state and should be the strength of the squad in 2022.


Charlie Vercruysse (8/4/21)

Charlie Vercruysse, SS/RHP, (2024; Notre Dame commit): The Pioneers lost quite a bit of talent from last year’s roster that finished 32-4, including a third-place in Class 2A. Luckily they have plenty of talent coming through the ranks to help ease the departures, most notably Vercrusysse, a two-way talent already committed to Notre Dame. Vercruysse’ biggest asset for the 2022 club will be manning the shortstop position and bringing his potent right-handed bat into the lineup, despite the fact that he is equally as talented on the mound (fastball in the mid-to-upper 80’s). Vercruysse has a long athletic frame, strong arm and advanced hit tool with middle-of-the-order ability. In limited at-bats last spring, Vercruysse hit .304 with three doubles and a triple. The left-side of the infield will look different in 2022 with Vercruysse taking over shortstop as only a sophomore. His ability to handle the role as an underclassmen will go a long way to the success of the Pioneers.


Jake Swartz (7/6/21)

+ Jake Swartz, RHP (2022; Illinois): Swartz, one of the most dynamic arms in the state, is back for the Pioneers after a dominant 2021 campaign where he earned PBR Second Team All-State honors. Last season, Swartz finished 8-1 with 45.1 innings pitched, 75 strikeouts and a 0.62 era. Swartz runs his fastball into the low 90’s consistently (topping at 94 mph) to go along with one of the best breaking balls in the state; a hard, late-biting downer curveball with swing-and-miss action and 2419 average rpm. If Swartz can repeat his dominance from 2021 it will go a long way for Normal University to make it back to the state finals, this time in Joliet after being bumped up to 3A.  


The Pioneers were on everyone's radar last season thanks to a plethora of hard-throwing arms and arguably the deepest pitching staff in the state, regardless of class. The Preseason No. 3 team in the state, didn't disappoint going 32-4 on the year and making it to 2A state. They graduated a handful of highly-talented players but this year’s roster looks just as impressive with arms galore and plenty of potent position players to warrant a No. 3 Preseason ranking once again. 

On the mound, they feature arguably the top one-two punch in the state in RHPs Swartz – who was mentioned as the 'X-Factor' above – and Matt Sauser (2023; Iowa). Swartz sits comfortably in the low-90s and was flat-out dominant last season, striking out almost two batters per inning and finishing with a 0.62 ERA. When Swartz is not starting big games for the Pioneers, expect to see Sauser, one of the most talented junior arms in the state. Sauser has all kinds of ability and upside in his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame. He routinely sits in the upper-80s, touching 90, with some of the best breaking balls in the class, featuring huge spin, and it would not be a surprise if his velocity has made an even bigger jump over the winter months. Last season, Sauser struck out 62 in 41 innings pitched, finishing 6-1 with a 0.85 ERA. Runs are going to be extremely difficult for the opposition to come by when Sauser and Swartz toe the rubber – but there's more firepower elsewhere on the staff that won't make life easier on opposing bats when they're out of the ballgame.

Matt Sauser (6/24/21)

Outside of the top two arms, there are plenty other options for coach Steve Paxson to lean on throughout the season. Senior RHP Jack Bach (2022; Central Michigan) has potential dominant stuff in his own right. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound, strong-bodied right-hander runs his fastball up to 90 mph with a mid-70s curveball that he uses as his out-pitch. Bach went 3-0 last spring with 29 strikeouts in 20.1 innings pitched and a 1.03 ERA. A couple of other right-handed arms they will have to call on are Eli Kieser (2023), Evan Jones (2022), Quincy Hougas (2022), Connor Frey (2022) and Vercruysse, mentioned earlier as the team's 'Newcomer.' Jones, who will also be one of the team's top bats, struck out 14 in his 6.2 innings pitched last year.

Coach Paxson will also have two left-handed options to choose from in LHP/OF Chase Adams (2022; Southern Mississippi) and LHP Grant Marshall (2023).  Adams went 3-0 last spring in his 21 innings pitched, striking out 30 with a 2.00 ERA. So, there's more than enough quality arms for the Pioneers to utilize while navigating through another deep postseason run.

Offensively, they seemingly have more to replace than on the mound, having graduated the left side of their infield, (Karson Bonaparte and Daniel Mosele), as well as MacCallan Conklin and Matthew Davenport in the outfield. Vercruysse should be tasked with taking over for Mosele at shortstop while the upside junior Kieser will have a chance to replace Bonaparte at third base. Senior Matthew Armstrong (2022; McHenry County JC) will provide stability, returning at second base, along with left-handed hitter Carson Beal (2022; Morton JC) at first. Armstrong hit .372 last season with seven doubles, a triple, home run, and 29 runs scored, and he also returns an on-base percentage of .479. Beal himself hit .341 with three doubles and a triple. Adams, mentioned above as a left-handed arm, returns in the outfield and his lefty bat should be towards the top of the lineup everyday. Adams hit .319 with a .425 OBP, four doubles, three triples, a home run and 29 RBIs in 2021.

Chase Adams (6/26/21)

Jones, another returning outfielder mentioned as an arm above, brings a power threat to the middle of the lineup. Jones hit .351 with three home runs, five doubles, two triples, 26 RBIs and 33 runs scored. Bach, also mentioned above for his ability on the mound, returns after hitting five home runs a season ago with a .382 batting average. Bach could see some time in the outfield this spring when he is not on the mound.

Evan Kochel (2022; Lincoln Land CC) will also play an important role on the club as he handled the majority of the catching duties last year as a junior. Kochel’s defensive play will take far more importance over his right-handed bat but he also hit five home runs last season and eight doubles to go along with a .324 batting average. 


Normal University had a similar looking roster on paper in 2021 and finished 32-4 with third-place trophy at the 2A State Finals. This season they move up to 3A, but expectations remain the same. A state title run seems in the cards once again, as they return their top two arms from last year, who combined for a 14-2 record while recording sub-0.86 ERAs. Outside of their top two horses, they have plenty of other talented arms to step up when called upon. Seemingly every bat that returns hit over .300 last spring and the talented sophomore Vercruysse seems ready to take on a much larger role this spring. 

Looking up-and-down the roster, there are very few holes and a number of names who gained valuable playoff experience with their run last spring. Do not be surprised if the Pioneers make the 3A transition look easy this spring and find themselves still standing in Joliet this June. 

Make sure to follow @PBRIllinois on Twitter for the most up-to-date coverage throughout the 2022 season.

Find more information on the 2022 Pioneers below:

+ Team Website
+ Team Schedule
+ Team Twitter