Evanston’s baseball program is working on a streak of four straight seasons with 20 victories, something that’s never been achieved in the long history of the program before.
But for the Wildkits to get to that point again this year, they’ll have to stop being so generous.
Evanston’s pitchers issued 22 walks in six games on a spring break trip to Florida and that’s a trend that’s a genuine concern for head coach Frank Consiglio, now in his 10th year at the helm. The Kits managed to break even with a 3-3 record in those games and are now 5-5 overall.
“Sometimes your record doesn’t really tell the whole story. But in this case it does, because right now we’re playing very average baseball,” Consiglio said upon Evanston’s return. “We figured coming into the season that our strength would be our pitching, but even the guys we have coming back from last year (top starters Matt Anderson and Joe Snapp) aren’t getting strike 1, and they’re not attacking hitters the way we want them to. The amount of bases on balls we’ve given up is just extraordinary.
“We tried to play and pitch as many guys as possible on the trip to Florida, like we usually do. We were just extremely inconsistent on the mound. We’ll be an average team until we start putting hitters away. The inconsistency hasn’t been as big a problem with Matt or Joe as it has been with some of the juniors, but they haven’t been as sharp or consistent as we’d like to see, either.
“The good thing is that we’re hitting the heck out of the ball. We have some guys who have really stepped up for us at the plate.”
Last spring, Snapp led the Wildkits in innings pitched and had a 2-2 won-loss record with a solid 2.72 earned run average. Anderson compiled a perfect 6-0 mark, including a no-hitter against Maine East, and fanned 21 batters in 28 innings.
The two senior right-handers still figure to assume most of the mound burden when Central Suburban League play opens next week. Behind them, junior Henry Haack has emerged as a solid No. 3 option, with seniors Chris Brown and Oliver Baldwin-Edwards also in the mix along with juniors Jake Snider, Will Lucas and Will Peterson.
“Haack has good command of 3 pitches and he’s good at run control (with men on base), too,” praised Consiglio. “He’s stood out every time he’s had an opportunity to pitch and he’s clearly our best option after Joe and Matt at this point.
“I’m also expecting some quality innings from Chris Brown. If he gets rolling, he could be good enough to be the main man for us. He has good velocity and when he has his command, he’s really good.”
With only four position players returning as starters, Consiglio figured his squad might have to scratch out runs this spring until the juniors adjusted to varsity competition. Instead, the Wildkits have averaged more than 6 runs per game so far and have posted an eye-catching .319 batting average.
And that’s been accomplished without the services of third baseman Adam Geibel, who has been hampered by a sore shoulder and hasn’t played at all after batting .309 last year as a sophomore.
Evanston dropped 2 of its first 3 games this spring, then on the Florida trip lost to Gleneig (Md.) 11-9; tripped Brooks (Pa.) 11-5; topped Plymouth Whitemarsh (Pa.) 9-3; defeated Franklin Regional (Pa.) 12-6; then suffered consecutive losses to Loveland (Colo.) by a 9-3 margin and Kings (Ohio) 4-3.
Veterans B.J. Johnson (.333), Brown (.435), and shortstop Jesse Heuer (.444 batting average, .571 on-base percentage) have helped set the early offensive tone with plenty of help from junior catcher Fletcher Brown (.407) and first baseman Joe Epler (.407).
“Heuer and Brown are tough outs and they’ve really been good for us in the 3-4 spots in the order,” said Consiglio. “We have a ton of team speed — this is one of the quickest teams I’ve ever coached — and we accomplished a lot in Florida because we were able to see who could hit in pressure situations. We learned a lot about our rotation and where we want to be, and now that we’re back we’ll tighten things up.
“The Florida trip was good for the juniors because it gave them a taste of varsity baseball. Now they have an idea of what it’s all about.”
The loss of Geibel, who came on strong both offensively and defensively last spring, leaves a void that has so far been filled with a platoon of senior Matt Reynolds, junior Matt Barbato and Baldwin-Edwards.
“I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but right now we have to look at it like if Adam comes back at all, it will be a bonus,” said the coach. “He had really solidified the infield for us and third base is the most difficult position to fill on the field every year. And every year it seems like we have a key injury of some kind.
“About 5 years ago I did change my mindset as a coach and now we coach them to play their best baseball the last 10 games in May. Everything we do points to what the last 10 games will look like for us. We know what championship baseball looks like — I’d love to know what our record is the last 4 years in May — and we just haven’t seen that consistency yet. We ‘re not close to being where we need to be, not at all. We have a lot of work to do.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.