Even though he knew he was going to get a chance to play college baseball somewhere, a scholarship offer from Missouri State helped put a much brighter shine on Edwardsville High School right-hander Cole Hagen's summer.
Hagen said he received interest from Missouri and Southeast Missouri State about playing, but neither came through with a definite scholarship offer.
Earlier this month Missouri State coach Keith Guttin called Edwardsville High coach Tim Funkhouser and that phone call eventually led to a baseball scholarship for Hagen.
"I was kind of going in between SEMO and Missouri," Hagen said Thursday, noting he likely would have been a recruited walk-on at those schools. "Out of nowhere, Coach Funkhouser called me and told me Missouri State was interested. They came to one of my games and asked me to come down there on a visit.
"The academics were good and then they gave me an offer I really couldn't refuse."
Guttin's late recruiting foray into the metro-east paid off with three recruits since the Bears also have signed Hagen's Edwardsville teammate Blake Graham and Belleville West All-Area shortstop Aaron Meyer.
The 6-foot, 2-inch Hagen blossomed as a senior after throwing just 8 2/3 innings as a junior, earning News-Democrat first-team All-Area honors as a senior this spring. He compiled a 7-1 record and 0.74 ERA as the Tigers' ace, striking out 63 in 57 innings with just 16 walks. He held opposing hitters to a .142 batting average.
While he watched other area players make commitments and sign, Hagen held out hope something might come through.
"I wouldn't say frustrated, I'd say I was stressed," Hagen said. "It was really stressful. I had a handful of junior college offers, but after SEMO and Mizzou both offered me spots, I was using (the junior college offers) as a backup plan if nothing came through."
Graham already had signed with Heartland Junior College in Normal and was fully prepared to head north for his freshman year of school.
Instead, Missouri State contacted Funkhouser about Graham's availability and his plans suddenly changed.
"It was just something that came out of the blue," Graham said. "We were going down for a wedding in Arkansas and Coach Funkhouser called me and said there was some interest from Missouri State.
"Things just kept building from there and I'm sure happy with how it turned out."
He led the Tigers in hitting with a .420 average and the speedy leadoff man and center fielder also had nine double, three triples, two homers and 14 RBIs. He also scored 40 runs with a team-leading 31 stolen bases and has been timed at a little over six seconds in the 60-yard dash.
Graham picked a great time to attract more recruiting attention when he was named Co-Most Valuable Player after helping Illinois win the PNC Bank High School All-Star Baseball Showcase at Busch Stadium.
The game feature the top seniors on both sides of the river and Graham was all over the bases that night.
"That was my year in a microcosm, getting on base, scoring runs," Graham said. "I wouldn't say it was the highlight of my high school career, but it was a big moment and a nice way to end it."
Hagen's trademark sinking fastball with lots of movement hovers in the mid-80 mph range. It helped him hold opposing hitters to just 29 hits in 57 innings.
Already excited before he made his visit to the Springfield, Mo., campus, Hagen liked it even better when he saw the Bears' Hammons Field.
It's also the home field the St. Louis Cardinals' Class AA affiliate, the Springfield Cardinals.
"I liked all the coaches and got to see their facilities," Hagen said. "They play in the Cardinals' Double A stadium so that's awesome."
Hagen said a lot of work with Edwardsville High pitching coach Mike Waldo helped polish his mechanics and build his conference.
"I think I just got more practices in the bullpens," Hagen said. "Between my sophomore and junior year I grew a lot and got a lot taller and stronger. Working with Coach Waldo all the way through my junior season and getting more opportunity my senior year really helped.
"Coach Waldo helped me a lot, I can't say enough good things about it. We're really close and we still talk occasionally."
Graham and Hagen are two of the top players for the Edwardsville Post 199 club that recently won the District 22 North Division playoff championship and advanced to the Fifth Division Tournament next week in Fairview Heights.
Missouri State was 31-23 this season and has been one of the top programs in the Missouri Valley Conference. Guttin has a 1,063-675 mark in 31 seasons as the Bears' head coach.