After decades of frustration that included mostly slaughter rule defeats, Evanston’s softball team finally discovered the secret for beating rival New Trier.
The answer was simple — just treat the Trevians like they were any other team.
No longer intimidated by their rivals to the north, the Wildkits broke through for a historic victory Tuesday in Winnetka. ETHS took advantage of a defensive collapse by the Trevians in the 7th inning and scored 4 runs on their way to a 6-2 Central Suburban League South division victory.
It marked the first time since 1990 that Evanston has beaten New Trier head-to-head, and it’s believed to be only the third time in school history that the Kits have come out on top since the program was established in the mid-1970s.
Tuesday‘s triumph was the 7th straight for coach Katie Perkins’ squad and pulled the Kits into a first place tie in the conference standings with the losers. Evanston improved to 14-5 overall and at 7-1 could earn a share of their first conference championship since 1975 if they can win out.
This isn’t the same Evanston team that lost to New Trier by a 13-2 margin the first time the two teams met last month. Gina Hopf hit a solo home run, Megan Chambers delivered a key 2-run single in the 7th inning uprising, and winning pitcher Grace Elwood allowed only two hits over the last 4 innings after being shelled in her other career start against the Trevs.
“You have to give a lot of credit to these kids,” said Perkins after the celebration and picture-taking had died down in the wake of the big win. “I’m a relative newcomer here and it was always baffling to me the amount of credit that the Evanston community gave to New Trier in softball. Teams that played against them in the past were not able to pull through and beat them, and for some reason when I heard our athletes talk about playing against them, it sounded different. I think it’s something mental.
“We’re a different team now than we were the first time we played them. We’ve worked out a lot of kinks and we’re holding each other accountable. We talk all the time about the fact that there’s just another team in that (opposing) dugout. And we also talk about being able to capitalize when the other team opens the door, and we surely did that today. ”
“The young girls coming in have already been coached in great style, and they’re already programmed with the mentality that we can make it happen no matter who we’re up against, if we just focus on each play,” said Hopf, one of only two seniors on the ETHS roster.
“It’s a huge win for us. Since it’s my senior year it’s the last time for me on this field, and it’s a great feeling to beat them. This was a lot of fun.”
Officially, New Trier committed just one error in that decisive 7th inning, but it was the plays the hosts didn’t make that came back to haunt them.
Meg Eisfelder’s single up the middle to start the inning set the stage for the Kits to make history against New Trier relief pitcher Cathy Hinkamp. The next batter, Maddy Managlia, grounded to the right side and was credited with an infield hit when first baseman Cindy Secaras couldn’t make a play at any base.
Lucy Hart dropped down a sacrifice bunt and Eisfelder crossed with the go-ahead run when third baseman Peyton Arenson threw wildly past first.
Hopf, already 3-for-3 with a double and a home run, dropped down a bunt with runners on second and third and all hands were safe to load the bases for Chambers.
She ripped a 2-1 pitch down the first base line for a two-run single, and Katie Parcell followed with an RBI single to provide some insurance.
“I’ve always thought the biggest hits are in clutch situations where you can really help your team win. So yes, that was a pretty big hit for me!” Chambers exclaimed. “But everyone on this team contributed to this win today and we all had each other’s backs. It was truly a team effort, and that’s what makes it such a great feeling.
“I think we have a different mindset this year. We come ready to play, no matter who we’re up against, and we try to win every single pitch. We’re more focused, more aggressive and we’re not afraid of what’s to come. We’re more ready for whatever it is.”
Hopf’s home run to center leading off the 4th inning against Trevian starter Alicia Bagan got the visitors on the scoreboard, and in the 5th No. 9 hitter Caroline Job worked Hinkamp for a leadoff walk and scored on a 2-out wild pitch to even things at 2-2.
Winning pitcher Elwood allowed 8 hits — not to mention several other hard-hit balls that went right to ETHS defenders — and displayed enough moxie in the circle to strand 10 baserunners. And the pitcher’s primal scream after retiring the final hitter on ground ball to shortstop Job proved she knew just how big a victory it was.
“She took a shot off her thigh in that one inning, but she’s tough as nails,” Perkins praised. “She has that competitive mindset through and through, and I knew she’d come through for us today.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.