An opportunity to build team chemistry — and to play in warm weather — are the main reasons Evanston’s baseball team starting taking a spring break trip to Florida when Frank Consiglio took over as head coach of the program nine years ago.
Wins? Those are generally a bonus. But the Kits came back from their 2016 trip after experiencing the best of both worlds last week, sweeping all six opponents they faced and accelerating the learning curve for both the players and their head coach.
Now the task is to continue that momentum if Mother Nature will cooperate this week. The Wildkits are scheduled to play a pair of non-conference games, Tuesday at Hersey and at home Wednesday against Notre Dame, in an attempt to build on a seven-game winning string.
Now 7-1 overall, Consigilio’s crew combined solid defense with stingy defense while racking up wins over Boardman, Ohio (9-3); Hilton Head, Ga. (4-2); Franklin Regional, Pa. (9-3); Tri Village, Ohio (8-1); McQuaid, N.Y. (4-0); and Indian Hills , N.Y. (7-0) in Florida.
“On the field and off the field, and as far as team building goes, this trip did everything for us it’s supposed to do,” said Consiglio. “The kids really competed at a high level and you could tell they’re getting more comfortable with each other. We’re all still trying to figure out who’s who, and who’s going to help us the most this year.
“That’s the first time we’ve ever won every game down there, and we only gave up 9 runs in 6 games. Our hitting was OK, our baserunning was OK, and our pitchers pretty much shut down the opposition except for one inning (versus Boardman) where we gave up three runs. We didn’t give away any outs on defense because it was so good. Our infield cleaned up everything and we made the plays we needed to make.”
Back-to-back shutouts to start the trip against the two New York foes set the tone for a pitching staff that Consiglio had confidence in right from the start of preseason workouts, even though the returning veterans had combined for less than 20 innings of varsity experience last spring.
Dylan Mulvihill, Drew Martinson, Brian Zarky and Matt Anderson combined for a 3-hit shutout of Indian Hills and then junior Joe Snapp only surrendered 3 hits in his 6-inning stint versus McQuaid before Martinson finished the game off by striking out the side.
Zarky, junior Chris Brown and junior Oliver Baldwin-Edwards also turned in quality starts on the trip and helped lower Evanston’s team earned run average to an impressive 1.51 over the first 8 games.
“We know what we have with our top 3 guys, but the rest of the roles are still undefined,” said Consiglio. “They all did a nice job in spots and so did Charlie Bailey after a rough first outing. We are starting to see those roles play out.
“I was looking to see what we had from our corner infielders and outfielders, and from the back end of our rotation, too. I thought (junior outfielder) B.J. Johnson had a great trip. He gave us some good at-bats in some big moments down there. (Sophomore) Adam Geibel did a nice job at third base and (senior infielder) Keenan Micinski helped us out a lot on defense at both second and shortstop.”
On offense, the Wildkits were led by veterans Charlie Maxwell and Tyler McHolland, who are both sporting .389 batting averages to date. Brown went 3-for-4 against Tri-Village and also contributed a pair of hits against Franklin Regional, and Jay Wilson drove in two runs with two hits in that game. Johnson drove in a run with a pair of hits in the win over McQuaid.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.