Cooper Criswell and Jackson Hesterlee have shared diamond dreams at all levels through their playing days, dating back to the recreation circuit all the way up to winning a state championship together at Carrollton High School in 2014.

The former Trojan standouts haven't separated since that time, journeying off to stellar junior college careers at Southern Union State Community College upon hanging up the Black and Gold uniforms in 2015.

And now the duo is set to take its talents to the Division I level, as both verbally committed to the University of North Carolina this past weekend.

When it came to making a decision about where they'd further their education and athletic careers beyond this spring, choosing Chapel Hill didn't prove too tough, especially when the prospect of remaining teammates became a reality rather than wishful thinking.

"It's special. Playing with Cooper my whole life since we were 6, 7 years old, it's something you don't hear about too often. Two best friends growing up playing high school ball, winning a state championship together and then playing JUCO ball and going to the same Division I university, it's not very common to see that happen," Hesterlee said.

Criswell noted how the conversation of playing together at the Division I level had come up quite often over the past year, but it was somewhat in jest rather than truly expecting it to happen.

"It really is a dream come true. Obviously, we joked around about it after playing on the same high school team. We came to Southern Union and joked about going to the same school after here, but we never really thought the opportunity for both of us to go to a big power conference like the ACC would happen. We're just really excited and blessed," Criswell said.

Criswell, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, led the Bison pitching staff during his freshman campaign, going 7-4 with a sparkling 1.79 ERA. He tossed four complete games and struck out 68 batters in 75.1 innings of work.

Hesterlee, a 6-foot-4 left fielder/designated hitter, hit .343 during his first spring in Wadley, Alabama, with 37 base knocks, including eight doubles and a home run to go with seven RBI and 20 runs scored.

UNC pitching coach Scott Forbes first took notice of the former Trojan stars after attending a recent practice, where everyone seemed to hit it off right away, leading to last weekend's visit and, ultimately, the verbal commitments.

"[Forbes] just really fell in love with me and Jackson that day he saw us. I just really felt like he saw our potential. He just saw us one time and trusted his gut that we could play for him. So that really helped my decision," Criswell said. "Then on our visit, [head] coach [Mike] Fox, he was just a top-of-the-line guy. A real down-to-earth guy and their whole coaching staff just really had a big impact on it."

Hesterlee also commented on how the campus and baseball facilities, in particular, were second-to-none in helping cement his decision.

"First off, their facilities and field are top of the line. Probably one of the best in the country," Hesterlee said. "Their campus is incredible. It's nicer than I expected to be and something I couldn't turn down."

Of course, both players still have the spring season ahead of them at Southern Union and they're looking to make some noise at the JUCO level for one more season before heading to UNC.

"I feel Cooper and myself came in here and had an impact on last season and hopefully even improve to be better this year," Hesterlee said.

Coming off Tommy John surgery as a senior in high school, Criswell had to shake off a little rust last fall, but he regained his top form by the spring season.

"The fall was kind of an awakening for me because coming out of surgery I wasn't expected to be at my full potential, but I was more wild than I was anticipating. That was kind of frustrating for me. But by the spring time came I got more reps in and kind of came back to the old form," Criswell said. "I really like the guys that play behind me and the catcher always calls a good game. I just have a good situation and fit here at Southern Union."

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