Chris Brown was one of the most promising pitching prospects in the pipeline for Evanston’s baseball program as a freshman and sophomore.
But the big right-hander lost confidence in himself — and in his stuff — and didn’t contribute much on the mound as a junior.
Now Brown is ready to be an ace again. He hurled four hitless innings Friday as the Wildkits won their home opener with an 8-3 trimming of Lincoln Park and former ETHS assistant coach Dusty Bensko.
Brown struck out 7, including 6 of the first 8 Lions he faced, and walked 3 before turning the job of finishing a potential no-hitter over to the bullpen. Junior Jake Snider contributed two scoreless and hitless frames before the Lions finally got to the third Evanston pitcher, senior Charlie Kihm, for three runs and two hits in the top of the 7th inning.
Brown might have gone deeper into the contest himself except for the new Illinois High School Association rules — euphemistically called “guidelines” — that limit pitch counts this spring for the first time.
“The pitch count was the reason I took him out, because he has to come back for us in 3 more days,” said Evanston head coach Frank Consiglio. “If he doesn’t wind up starting for us, I’d love to have him available as much as possible. We’re always telling our pitchers that there are non-conference guys and Central Suburban League guys, and our goal for Chris is for him to be a CSL guy.”
Brown said he’s eager to embrace the idea of pitching in conference games that count the most, after ETHS improved to 6-5 on the season overall.
“Last year I doubted my ability and I wasn’t very confident,” said the senior righty. “But I gained a lot of confidence over the summer and the fall on the Showcase circuit (competing for the Diamond Dogs and Illinois Hawks) and now I feel like I can come in and dominate on the high school level.
“After my sophomore year I had some pain in my forearm and I ended up changing my mechanics because of it. After that, I lost my command. I got it back about 3 months ago. Today I just tried to pitch well enough to hopefully earn some more innings. I wanted another inning, but I understand about the pitch counts and it’s more important to win the game than anything else.
“My goal for the whole year is to try to be the ace of this staff. I think the competition among Matt (Anderson) and Joe (Snapp) and me will make us all perform better, because we all want to be that (No. 1) guy.”
Brown, who has already committed to play at State Fair Community College in Sedalia (Mo.) next year, overpowered the Lions with a blazing fastball. The visitors only came close to a hit once, when Noel Rodriguez tapped a slow grounder and ETHS shortstop Jesse Heuer threw him out by half a step leading off the 4th inning.
“With these new pitch count rules, it’s essential for us as coaches to be able to shorten the game and keep everyone’s pitch count down,” Consiglio said. “What we really need is guys who will throw strikes, no matter what their role is.
“If Chris can command his pitches, he’s really going to be good for us. But that’s a big, big if. He has good velocity and he can generally throw his off-speed for strikes on any count, and that’s big for any pitcher.
“It was good to see us play our style of baseball early in the game today. We still haven’t been able to get in the work we need to get done (Friday’s game was the first time the Wildkits have been able to use their own field due to wet weather), so right now my head is still clouded up with all of the things we need to work on. But it was definitely encouraging for us to get off to that kind of a start today.”
Evanston scored at least one run in each of the first five frames, stole 8 bases as a team and added 7 hits while handing Lincoln Park (5-1) their first loss of the season. All 5 of the Lions’ previous wins had come against Chicago Public Schools foes.
Heuer’s RBI double and a run-scoring single by Joe Epler staked Brown to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Harry Porter’s sacrifice fly delivered another run and B.J. Johnson’s single up the middle pushed the advantage to 4-0 in the Evanston second.
The hosts added another run in the third without hitting a ball out of the infield, Fletcher Brown’s single and Heuer’s sacrifice fly produced two more runs in the fourth, and a pinch-hit single by Charlie Krause chased Joey Chafetz home with the eighth run of the contest in the fifth.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.