With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the fine-tuning has already begun for Evanston’s baseball team.
The Wildkits learned Tuesday that they were awarded the No. 4 seed for the Class 4A Illinois High School Association sectional tournament that will be hosted by Lane Tech, then continued that fine-tuning on the basepaths and in the bullpen in a 10-3 Central Suburban League South division victory at Maine South.
Evanston banged out 11 hits, including a 3-for-4 day by leadoff hitter B.J. Johnson, and earned its 7th straight victory while improving to 19-10 overall on the season and 9-3 in league play. The two teams are scheduled to meet again Thursday at ETHS.
Pairings for the regional tournament — the Kits will likely be assigned to the Niles North Regional — will be released Wednesday by the IHSA. But ETHS head coach Frank Consiglio is already in playoff mode when it comes to figuring out just how his squad will navigate a postseason path that includes the three teams seeded ahead of them, namely No. 1 New Trier, No. 2 Oak Park-River Forest and No. 3 Loyola Academy.
Relievers Matt Anderson and Will Peterson backed up winning pitcher Henry Haack with a scoreless inning apiece on the mound, and the Wildkits capitalized on 6 errors by a hapless Maine South squad that stumbled to 3-21 on the year.
Evanston swiped 5 bases and 6 different players drove in runs for the visitors.
“We were a little more aggressive on the basepaths today in some situations, because we were looking to see who will execute for us as we prepare for playoff baseball,” said Consiglio. “And I thought the way both Matt and Will pitched in the bullpen was a real positive for us, too. We’re starting to set our (starting) rotation and we’re also looking at the bullpen, which guys we can count on to come on and get us a ground ball, which guys can get us a strikeout when we need it. All those things are going through my head right now.
“I thought No. 3 or No. 4 would be a valid seed for us. In that sectional I’ll definitely take being seeded in the top 4 every year. That can give you an advantage because you’re able to arrange your rotation the way you want it. I think there will be some surprises because of the pitch counts (IHSA limits) during the regular season. Teams with 12, 13, 15 losses were affected by that because of their depth, but now their No. 1 or No. 2 guys will be out there and they’ll be different ballclubs then.
“It’s going to be a challenge.”
The veteran coach is probably leaning toward either junior Haack or senior Chris Brown to start the first postseason game on the mound, but Haack didn’t help his own cause after allowing 8 hits in his 5-inning stint. All of the Hawks’ hits were singles, but the junior righty allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in every single frame he pitched, and that’s not the kind of stress any pitcher can afford in a one-and-done playoff game.
“You have to make those hitters earn their way on base,” Consiglio pointed out. “If Henry executes on the edges and attacks the hitters on the first couple of pitches, instead of getting into ‘defensive’ counts, he’ll have a much better chance to succeed.”
Evanston pushed across 2 runs in the first inning, 3 in the second, 2 in the third, and 3 in the fifth in support of Haack, now 4-1 on the season. Johnson jump-started the offense with a ground-rule double that bounced over the left field fence on the second pitch of the game, and the Kits hit almost nothing but line drives after that.
Johnson drove in a pair of runs with his 3 hits and also stole a base. Adam Geibel went 2-for-3, Joe Epler was 2-for-4, and Jesse Heuer drove in a pair of runs with a single and a sacrifice fly.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.