NORMAL — Jack Sauser's senior season got interrupted by a water bottle. Allow the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Sauser to explain:
"I just woke up, my leg was asleep and I stepped on it," Sauser said.
The bottle was standing straight up, resulting in a broken bone in Sauser's foot. The University High School right-hander missed three weeks, but now, he is back. That was clear Friday when Sauser held Normal Community to four hits in a 4-1 nonconference triumph at NCHS.
The Northwestern-bound Sauser (3-1) struck out five and walked two in his second game since returning.
"These past two outings I've had nothing wrong with it (the foot)," Sauser said. "(Friday) it was location and mixing up speed and pitches. I was trying not to throw most guys the same pitch back to back."
NCHS got its run in the fourth on consecutive doubles by Nick Gilhaus and Jack Schirpke. Otherwise, Sauser was in control. He was backed by a two-run home run from Paul Africano as the Pioneers improved to 19-6.
"The velo (velocity) hasn't been what it was early in the year, but he (Sauser) has such good command of second and third pitches," U High coach Steve Paxson said. "He did a really great job of keeping guys off balance. His ability to kind of pitch backwards was the key."
Sauser outdueled NCHS starter Mason Burns and reliever Griffin McCluskey, who combined for 13 strikeouts.
Burns (4-1) fanned eight and walked three in 4⅓ innings, but surrendered two unearned runs as well as Africano's homer to left-center.
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Africano connected on a 2-1 pitch after Nate Hardman drew a two-out walk.
"With good pitchers like that — with Burnsey on the mound, he's a really talented guy — all that was on my mind was being on time with the fastball," Africano said. "When someone throws that hard, that's all you can do really.
"This feels good. This game is always a lot of fun every year. All of us are good buddies. It's two great teams."
U High scored in the second when Jacob Mote walked, went to second on a balk, stole third and came home when the throw went into left field. Africano's homer made it 3-0 in the third, and in the fifth, leading 3-1, U High stole another run.
Daniel Mosele stole second and Parker Mathieson, who was on third, got in a rundown. An error allowed him to trot home easily.
"Our goal was to be aggressive today ... to try to get good jumps and go," Paxson said. "We have some team speed, so we have to play like that."
Schirpke had two hits for NCHS (20-6), which stranded five runners in the 1-hour, 45-minute contest.
"Coach Paxson and I knew when we rescheduled this game for tonight it would probably have a postseason feel," NCHS coach Ryan Short said. "It's after regional seedings and all of that, which is fine. It's an Intercity game and these kids grow up knowing each other.
"There were two good pitchers on the mound. They hit one ball really hard (the homer) and did a little better job offensively than we did. Jack (Sauser) controlled the bottom of the zone well."