This isn’t the fastest baseball team Frank Consiglio has ever coached at Evanston, and Sawyer Brown probably wouldn’t beat too many of his teammates in a foot race.
But the stocky first baseman — a lineman for the ETHS football team in the fall — helped the Wildkits steal an 8-5 Central Suburban League South division victory from Glenbrook South Monday in a makeup contest at Evanston.
Sawyer rumbled all the way home from first base, on a play that started as a routine sacrifice bunt, with the go-ahead run and teammate Nadav Sered-Schoenberg stole home to cap a 5-run rally in the bottom of the fifth inning as Evanston remained tied with New Trier atop the division standings.
The Kits avenged an earlier loss to the Titans in a ragged game that featured a combined 10 errors, 9 walks and a couple of hit batters.
And if Brown, who just earned a spot in the starting lineup last week due to a hamstring injury for sophomore outfielder Noah Leib, wasn’t the least likely Wildkit to take a gamble on the basepaths, he’s in the team picture.
Aggressive baserunning has been a staple for the Wildkits ever since Consiglio took over the helm of the program and the ability to put pressure on enemy defenses has made the difference in too many games to count for Evanston during his tenure.
It happened again Monday thanks to an unlikely hero like Brown.
“It doesn’t always come down to speed when it comes to taking the extra base, or stealing bases,” Consiglio pointed out. “We’ve been pretty efficient in those situations all year. I like to go with a heads-up guy in that situation and Sawyer is a heady kid. I don’t know if he would have kept coming if he hadn’t heard me yell, but I’m glad he heard me.”
Brown’s dash to third base produced a run when the return throw from GBS first baseman Simon Farber sailed into left field, putting the Wildkits on top 6-5. Later in the frame, with two outs and runners on first and third, Matt Barbato intentionally allowed himself to be picked off first and kept the rundown alive long enough for Sered-Schoenberg to race home with an insurance run.
“I think I’d have picked it up (the decision to grab an extra base), but it would have been later if he hadn’t yelled,” Brown admitted. “I was surprised, because initially I wasn’t thinking about going to third base.
“But this team is all about hustle and you always want to hustle as much as you can out there.”
Brown’s contributions since Leib went on the disabled list came as the result of a batting practice session last week with Consiglio on the mound. He only had a handful of plate appearances before then, and spent more time with the junior varsity team following a slow start to the year.
The fact that he also suffered a broken finger playing football right before preseason tryouts didn’t exactly help his cause to break into the baseball lineup, either.
“When Leib got hurt, that opened up a spot, and Sawyer is making the most of his opportunity,” Consiglio said. “I was pitching against him in practice and kept dotting (hitting the outside corner) away, away, away to see how he’d react, and what I saw was that his plate coverage was excellent. He’s hit his whole career here and I just wanted to give him a shot. Even today, he made a great adjustment because he couldn’t handle the curve ball their pitcher was throwing. So in that third at-bat he attacked a first pitch fastball and helped keep the inning going.”
Brown’s slow start on offense dated back to summer baseball and the junior first baseman has had to battle through the slump.
“My identity as a baseball player has been that I’m able to hit any pitch thrown at me,” he said. “But in the beginning of the season I wasn’t hitting the way I feel I can. I made a few swing adjustments, worked with Coach and turned my swing around. Now, I’m in kind of a groove.”
The Wildkits triumphed despite a shaky start on the mound from left-hander Will Lucas, as the 4 errors the hosts committed included 2 by the winning pitcher. Relievers Billy Krupkin and Jay Moore slammed the door shut on the Titans in the sixth and seventh, issuing just a pair of walks between them.
Now 15-6-1 overall, and 6-2 in league play, Evanston led 2-0, fell behind 5-2 and then rallied with a 5-run fifth that included an RBI triple by Fletcher Brown. Harry Porter’s triple and Adam Geibel’s sacrifice fly accounted for another run in the sixth for the winners.
“We came out today and turned this game around with smart baseball and heads-up play,” Consiglio pointed out. “With our pitching, I don’t remember us giving up a lead like we did today and then coming back to win it. I was happy with the way we responded when we were down. You have to play a full 7 innings and we found a way to win, in a way we haven’t done before.
“We’re starting to get where I expected us to be as a team and the program goal is to play good baseball in May. That’s when it really counts.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.