Infielders Jason Moler and Doug Saunders of Esperanza High School, two of Southern California's best prep baseball players, have made verbal commitments to attend the University of Illinois next fall.
The seniors visited Illinois in October and gave new Illini Coach Augie Garrido an oral commitment during Christmas vacation when the former Cal State Fullerton coach visited their homes. The first day players can sign a national letter of intent is April 13.
"Doug and I talked about going to the same college last summer," Moler said. "Our main concern about going to Illinois was the weather conditions. We had some doubts whether we could play winter ball in Illinois.
"But Augie has an indoor facility for workouts and training, and he plans on traveling to Florida, Texas and California for the opening of the season, so the weather won't be much of a factor."
Garrido accepted the job at Illinois last August after compiling a 667-292-6 record in 15 years at Fullerton. Garrido, who led the Titans to two national championships, said his goal at Illinois is an NCAA championship within five years.
"Augie is going to win no matter where he goes, and I wanted to be a part of his program," Saunders said. "Illinois has first-class facilities and top programs in football and basketball.
"It's time for baseball to join the pack. Augie showed us the new ballpark with plans for an AstroTurf field and new lights that's going to make the place big time."
Moler and Saunders led Esperanza to a 25-3 record last season, and the Aztecs advanced to the Southern Section 4-A championship game. Moler batted .420 with 2 home runs and 30 RBIs. He also had an 8-1 pitching record.
Saunders batted .439 with 6 home runs. He had a 4-1 pitching record with 6 saves. The duo will be the Aztecs' double-play combination this season, with Saunders playing second base and Moler playing shortstop. Both will also pitch.
The two agreed that another consideration to commit to Illinois was the opportunity to make an immediate impact. Moler will play third base and Saunders will play second base in college.
"Augie told us that we're going to have to work hard to get playing time, but we're both hopeful of contributing right away," Saunders said.
Moler and Saunders were also recruited by Brigham Young University, Stanford and Cal State Fullerton, but their only visit was to the Champaign, Ill., campus. Both said they would major in business.
Garrido will return to Southern California Jan. 21 to be honored at a fund-raising dinner for Cal State Fullerton at the Red Lion Inn in Costa Mesa.