The calendar is about to flip over to the month of May and that means that Frank Consiglio’s focus is really on the “big picture” for the high school baseball season.
And that’s why the Evanston coach had no problem seeing the glass as half full — not half empty — after three Wildkit pitchers allowed a total of 13 hits Thursday in a 5-3 Central Suburban League South division victory over Glenbrook South.
To the veteran coach, the big picture was the fact that his pitchers were able to execute pitches when they needed to and closed out the Titans twice with late-inning leads, including last Tuesday’s 3-2 win at GBS.
That’s a step in the right direction with postseason play set to begin in a couple of weeks, even though the overall earned run average for the mound staff is hovering around the 4.00 mark.
Consiglio and his coaching staff, however, have pushed the right buttons to match up against opposing hitters with their front-line hurlers and the overall team ERA has been pushed higher in non-conference games where the Kits usually use their second-line pitchers.
Evanston improved to 14-10 overall by capitalizing on two hit batters, a throwing error and Alex Moore’s RBI single to push across two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning Thursday.
The ETHS bullpen out-pitched GBS in both games and it’s even possible that Consiglio discovered a potential closer in hard-throwing Joe Epler. The junior right-hander, who didn’t start pitching until last year, retired two of the three batters he faced in the seventh inning with the tying runs on base.
On the other hand, with the new Illinois High School Association pitch limits, roles are less defined for pitchers than in the past and most programs can’t afford the luxury of having someone designated strictly as a closer. Epler is supposed to start Saturday’s game versus Maine East, for example.
The combination of Henry Haack, Matt Anderson and Epler yielded 13 hits but issued only one walk against the Titans on Thursday and Consiglio is always encouraged when his hurlers are throwing strikes.
“At any level, bases on balls are death, and we’ve been walking 4 or 5 guys in every game,” the coach said. “If they keep executing on Strike 1 and don’t walk a lot of guys, you’re going to see a team that improves dramatically. I’d always rather get beat challenging hitters than by Ball 4.
“For us to be able to grind out a couple of wins after dropping two games like we did last week (to New Trier) was a huge step for us this week. Now, we have to build on this and move forward. Seventh inning closeouts like we had in both of these games are character closeouts.
“Henry Haack (who tossed 2 scoreless innings Tuesday to save the win for starter Chris Brown) played a gigantic role for us in the series. He closed them out Tuesday and he left with a lead today and he’s been a real bright spot for us.”
The game was actually tied at 3-all when Haack departed. Anderson pitched a scoreless sixth, but when two of the three Titans he faced in the seventh reached with base hits, Consiglio called on the seldom-used Epler to finish the job.
He retired Simon Farber on a deep fly to left for the second out, watched Jacob Smiley load the bases by legging out a grounder to short, and then retired Nick Mathien on a routine bouncer to second to end the game and chalk up the first save of his varsity career .
“Haack got us through 5 innings just like we wanted him to, Matt gave us a good matchup, and then we wanted to go with more velocity from Joe,” Consiglio said. “Joe is mentally as tough as they come and he wants the ball all the time. He’ll attack hitters and doesn’t get nervous in late inning situations. You can tell from watching him on a daily basis what a gamer he is, even though he hasn’t pitched much for us yet.
“Joe is a guy who gets every ounce out of his ability, and he won’t waver in any situation. You don’t get many guys who have that ‘no give’ mentality.”
Evanston grabbed a 3-0 advantage in the bottom of the second against South starter Jacob Newman, who hurt his own cause in chilly and windy weather conditions at the ETHS field. He issued three walks, threw three wild pitches and his errant pickoff throw broke up a scoreless deadlock. Later in the inning, Moore dropped down a bunt single that produced another Wildkit run.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director at ETHS.