With only a couple of starters returning from last year, Evanston softball coach Amy Gonzales knew that inexperience would be an issue for the Wildkits in her first year at the helm.
Inexperience on the basepaths cost the Kits their first legitimate shot for a victory this spring Tuesday at Maine West. Baserunning mistakes in the 6th and 7th innings led to Evanston’s fourth straight defeat to open the season, this one coming by a 2-1 margin to Maine West in a Central Suburban League crossover contest.
Gonzales isn’t sure when her team will turn the corner — but she knows that it will happen, if not sooner than later. And Tuesday’s contest was actually a step in the right direction when you consider that the Kits crumbled late in losses to Lane Tech (7-1), Palatine (13-3) and Loyola Academy (3-0) in the opening weeks.
“This is a whole new group of players, and the varsity level is different than the JV level,” pointed out Gonzales. “It’s just inexperience. We hit a little better today — we had good contact (only 6 strikeouts) and some good at-bats. We’ll get to the point where we’re hitting consistently. We have a lot of time to work on it. This was only our fourth game. We just need to get more relaxed and more confident in our at-bats, and I know that will come.
“We did have too many baserunning mistakes today. We had some lapses in judgment, and hopefully we’ll learn from those mistakes.”
With a lineup that features only three returning starters — pitcher Molly Chambers, first baseman Lucy Hart and center fielder Zoe Canafax — the Kits have actually seized early leads in two of those three losses and played Loyola to a scoreless tie for four innings before bowing.
Lack of offense has been a problem in chilly hitting conditions to date, including the Loyola contest where the losers struck out 17 times and only mustered 2 hits. Tuesday, Gonzales’ squad was also limited to just 2 hits but still had more than one chance to pull out a come-from-behind victory.
But when opportunity knocked — the Kits answered by having the potential tying runs thrown out twice at home plate.
A two-run, two-out single by Maine West’s Jessica Steingard in the first inning gave the hosts the early advantage against Chambers. But the senior right-hander kept West off the scoreboard the rest of the way, striking out 7 while walking 6 and allowing only three hits.
Evanston scored a run in the top of the 3rd without benefit of a hit. Zoe Landolt, who reached on a fielder’s choice after a walk to Anne Porter, came around to score when West first baseman Steingard dropped a throw from the shortstop on what should have been the final out of the frame.
The visitors threatened again in the fifth when Porter walked again and reached third on a wild pitch and a passed ball, with only one out. But Landolt fanned for the second out and Chloe Haack grounded to first to end the threat.
In the ETHS 6th, Canafax beat out a hit up the middle and one out later Chambers also reached on an error. But pinch-runner Syd Harrison was caught attempting to swipe second in the first-and-third scenario, and then Canafax was nailed at the plate in a rundown on the return throw.
“That wasn’t supposed to be a double steal,” Gonzales pointed out. “She (Canafax) had the option to go if the throw went through to second. She had a delayed reaction and that was just a case of not being experienced in that situation.”
The Wildkit got another chance in the 7th when their leadoff hitter, Jessica Parcell, grounded a single to center, and the subsequent relay throw sailed out of play to send her to third with no outs.
She didn’t attempt to score on Liz Ayeni’s grounder to second base with the Warrior infield back. Then, when Emily McCandlish dropped down an attempted squeeze bunt, Parcell hesitated and was an easy out at the plate. Porter then grounded out to end the game.