Evanston’s softball team made all kinds of history this spring. And the Wildkits came close to adding an historic comeback Tuesday at the Trinity Regional tournament.
Down 7-0 with just six outs left, the Kits climbed out of that hole but fell short in a 7-6 loss to Chicago Taft in the first round of regional play.
Evanston finished 18-13 on the year, a year in which they won their first Central Suburban League South division championship (tying New Trier and Maine South) in program history and set a single season school record for victories with 18.
But first-year head coach Katie Perkins and her players wanted more — the first regional championship in program history.
Wait ‘til next year.
“I’m so proud of how this season went, and of the things we accomplished,” said Perkins. “We just fell short at the end. But they left it all on the field and they showed a lot of pride in wearing the Blue and Orange. In general, they’ve improved leaps and bounds. They showed up every day wanting to win and wanting to make plays.
“We had great leadership from our two seniors, Maddy Managlia and Gina Hopf. They’ve had three different varsity coaches in their four years and it can’t have been easy for them. But they adapted and they toughed it out, and they’ve laid the foundation for Evanston softball to continue to improve.”
Eight errors shoved the Wildkits into that deep hole Tuesday, as the Wildkits continued to suffer on defense following a broken finger suffered by third baseman Hopf 10 days ago. The domino effect of that injury — which limited the team co-captain to just designated player duties as a hitter — appeared to affect the young squad late in the year as they dropped 4 of their last 6 decisions.
But Perkins’ young players also proved throughout the season that they didn’t know how to quit and Tuesday’s comeback is something to build on for the future.
ETHS pushed across 5 runs in the 6th, combining three walks and a Taft error with singles by Hopf, Managlia, Lucy Hart, Jaden Janzen and Megan Chambers. And except for a bounce that didn’t go their way in the 7th, they might have been able to keep their season alive.
Janzen (walk) and Chambers (hit by pitch) both reached to start the rally, and Kate Parcell, who had entered the game as a pinch-hitter and drove in a run with a fielder’s choice, was due up next. Parcell hammered a long drive to the fence, and it bounced over for a ground-rule double.
“If it hadn’t bounced over, I think both runners would have scored on the play,” Perkins pointed out. But Chambers never did cross the plate with the tying run. The next two hitters were retired and sophomore Meg Eisfelder flied out to left field to the game — and the season.
Eisfelder finished her first varsity season by establishing a single season school record for hits with 54, on her way to an impressive .511 batting average. The sophomore catcher was named to the all-CSL South division team this year along with teammates Hopf (.436), Managlia (.379) and sophomore pitcher Grace Elwood.
As a team, the Wildkits batted at a .368 clip and they’ll return every starter except center fielder Managlia and third baseman Hopf next year.
Perkins expects to see improvement in every area of the game — hitting, defense and pitching — from her young players this summer.
“Experience is always going to be a benefit and this summer will help there,” she said. “Moving forward, on defense they have to learn that you can’t play tense and still be able to make the routine plays. There were a lot of balls that could have been fielded this year and weren’t. Because of that we gave up multiple runs in a lot of innings. Other times, we made some spectacular plays and got a lot of double plays.
“We want to have the opportunity to play in big games like regional championships next year. It wasn’t in the cards for us this year. But we’ll tweak some of the mindsets and work on the fundamentals, and I’m looking forward to seeing how much progress they can make in the off-season.
“I can’t wait to see what the future will hold.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.