NORMAL — The cakes were different colors. So were the shirts and balloons. One thing was the same for Jack Sauser, Nate Hardman and Parker Mathieson.
All three University High School baseball standouts will be playing at Division I universities. They made it official Wednesday the way they’ve done most things … together.
Sauser signed a national letter of intent with Northwestern, Hardman with Saint Louis and Mathieson with Central Michigan on the first day of the November signing period. In addition to being teammates at U High, they were among five U High players on the Chicago Elite summer team.
“This has been a dream of ours for a long time,” Mathieson said. “I’ve known these guys my whole life. I’ve always respected their games and now me signing in a line next to them is a dream come true.”
Sauser is headed to Northwestern as a pitcher. A 6-foot-6, 210-pound right-hander, he was 4-1 with a 2.57 earned run average and 39 strikeouts in 35⅓ innings last spring.
His fastball was around 84 miles per hour. By mid-summer and into fall, it was up to 88, 89. Sauser caught Northwestern’s eye at a summer tournament in Ohio.
“They saw me over the next few tournaments and liked what they saw,” Sauser said. “I visited the campus and talked to the coaches. I just liked everything there. Northwestern has always been a goal of mine. That’s been a school I’ve wanted to go to for academics and great baseball.”
Sauser added some weight over the summer and continues to lift. He will enter the school of engineering with an eye toward computer science.
“When Jack was young we saw a real lanky, high ceiling kind of guy,” U High coach Steve Paxson said. “He’s really developed physically. He’s made himself into an elite guy. You can’t teach some of the attributes he has.”
Hardman also will pitch at Saint Louis. A 6-2, 210-pound right-hander, he was 4-2 last spring with a 1.82 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 38⅓ innings. Like Sauser, he picked up velocity over the summer, reaching 89 mph.
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“I think it was just growing more and I put on extra weight. I think that helped a lot,” Hardman said. “I just felt a lot more loose in the summer. I’m looking to get in the 90s for the U High season.”
Hardman knew he'd found a home after visiting Saint Louis.
“The campus is beautiful and the facilities are great,” he said. “I really loved what the coaches said. They also have a great academic program and business program, which is what I want to do. It was almost a dream school for me.”
Paxson said Hardman has “the right demeanor” and predicted he will be “a really good college player.”
“He’s always had really good stuff,” Paxson said. “All of a sudden he kind of bloomed over the summer. You’re getting to 86 to 89 on a regular basis and his breaking ball being a plus pitch, you’re going to be attractive to a lot of schools.”
Mathieson batted .353 with a .455 on-base percentage last spring, playing center field. He had seven doubles and 23 RBI at the top of the order. Mathieson also has played middle infield and said he is comfortable in either spot.
“They told me that if you’re hitting, we’ll find you a position,” he said. “When I visited there the coach had gotten the job three weeks earlier. One thing I saw in talking to the players who were there and the coaching staff coming in, they were really big on the family feel.
“We agreed on a lot of things baseball wise and in how you carry yourself. I walked on campus and I just loved it.”
Paxson called Mathieson “a tremendous leader," adding, "Parker really runs well. He hits from the left side and he provides a mixture of power and contact. He puts a lot of pressure on defenses. And he's become a plus outfielder.”