Prep Baseball Report

Preseason Power 25 Countdown: No. 20 Normal Community

By: Gavin Smith & Peter Hamot
Illinois Scouting Staff

The Illinois high school baseball season kicks off on March 11, 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 2024 spring season, touching on programs spanning all state classifications, counting down through the official Prep Baseball 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 2024 preseason coverage continues today.

High School: Normal Community High School Ironmen
Head Coach: Ryan Short
Classification: 4A
Conference: Big 12
2023 Record (Finish): 25-10 (Lost in Sectional Semifinal to Minooka)
Key Players Lost: Jacob O'Day (Heartland CC), Chase Wiese (Rock Valley JC), and Troy McLeese (Rock Valley JC)



No. of Returning Positional Starters: Six
No. of Returning Pitchers: Eight
Team Strengths: Pitching Depth - Deepest pitching staff since 2020.

Ethan Eberle IL 2024 LHP Louisville
Kaileb Hackman IL 2024 INF/RHP Augustana
Riley Hendren IL 2024 OF Augustana
Ryan Theile IL 2024 C -
Owen Cavanaugh IL 2024 INF/RHP -
Kyle Beaty IL 2025 UTL/RHP -


LHP Ethan Eberle (2024; Louisville commit) is one of the top pitching prospects in the entire state of Illinois, and last year he was nothing short of dominant on the mound. In 52 innings of work, Eberle posted an 8-0 record, struck out 105 batters, walked 17, allowed 12 hits, and only allowed one earned run all season. Heading into 2024, we’ve seen Eberle continue to get better, as we recently saw him up to 92.2 mph with his fastball that has true two-seam movement. He also has a big breaking curveball that gets swing-and-misses as well as a low-80s change-up that has fade and sink actions. What sets Eberle apart, aside from his pitch metrics, is his ability to command the strike zone and attack hitters with confidence in his three-pitch repertoire. When he takes the mound for the Ironmen, it will create a tough offensive day for the opposing team, and his presence sets them apart come playoff time.


It’s still unclear how much of an impact C Drew Stevens (2026) will have on this year’s Ironmen squad, but in our looks, he’s an in-game competitor that continues to get better each time we see him perform. Now standing in an impressive and strong 5-foot-10, 182-pound frame, Stevens has clearly shown big gains in the weight room as he produced a max exit velocity of 95.2 mph (88.6 mph avg.) this winter, which is over a 10 mph increase within the past year. He’s athletic behind the plate, too, where our scouts have seen him making noteworthy plays. His arm strength is starting to tick up (75 mph), and we’ve seen his pop times improve as well (2.07). Stevens is a potential impact name on this talented Ironmen roster.


Pitching will be the strong suit for the Ironmen this spring, headed by the aforementioned Eberle.

RHP Brady Bengtson (2024) will look to be another quality arm for the Ironmen this spring. Boasting a long-levered 6-foot-6, 214-pound frame. Bengtson provides a tough look from a low release, running his fastball up to 86 mph in front of our staff at the Illinois State Games this past summer. He also has shown confidence in both his curveball and slider, landing them for strikes and to put hitters away.

Senior RHP Jake Branch is another arm that showed well at this past summer’s Illinois State Games. Listed at 6-foot-3, 175-pounds, the right-hander wields a fastball in the mid-80s with heavy movement to his arm-side. He also has a dynamic curveball/changeup duo to pair off his fastball and keep hitters guessing.

Rounding out the potential rotation will be RHP Kaileb Hackman, RHP Owen Cavanaugh and RHP Parker Michels, who will all be quality arms when they toe the rubber for Normal.

The Ironmen have some firepower in their bullpen, with names such as RHP Luke Klunke (2025) and RHP Jonah Roper (2025) each boasting fastballs in the mid/upper-80s.

RHP Kyle Beaty (2025), RHP Anthony Gura (2024; College of DuPage commit), RHP Jack Richards (2025) and RHP Ben Schweigert (2025) will all look to add depth to the Normal bullpen and shut down the late innings of games.

The Ironmen’s offensive charge will be led by seniors OF Riley Hendren (Augustana commit) and 3B Kaileb Hackman (Augustana commit). Hendren is athletic and fast, running a 6.73 60 time at the Illinois State Games last August, while also showing an impressive all-fields approach during his round of batting practice. Hackman will look to provide run-production in the middle of their lineup. He has raw power in his right-handed swing, and we’ve seen him pummel the baseball in our looks, producing a max exit velocity of 99.1 mph and a max batted distance of 370 feet.

A plethora of seniors will provide Normal Community with experience at the varsity level: C Ryan Theile, 1B Dexter Niekamp, Cavanaugh, Gura, INF Luke Railey and OF Lucas Drengwitz. Our staff has seen plenty of these names compete throughout their high school careers, and their talent and experience will help the Ironmen throughout the regular season and beyond.

Beaty, mentioned above as a potential reliever, will also be a threat positionally. He's an athletic, multi-sport athlete that was an All-Conference Quarterback for the Ironmen last fall.

Bottom Line

The pitching rotation and bullpen depth on this year’s squad give them the pieces to compete against any team they face this season. On the offensive side, their senior leadership and experience doesn't go unnoticed, and it’s an intriguing aspect to follow with this team. With a 25-win season under their belts, they’ll look to expand upon that and make a run for the final-four in Joliet.

Find more information on the 2024 Normal Community High School program below:

+ Follow them on X: @NCIronBaseball

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