Dylan Mulvihill’s always been a tough competitor.
Put a hard-throwing opponent like Waukegan pitcher Jean Casanova on the mound opposite him — and with at least three scouts from major league baseball teams watching in the stands — and what do you get?
You get Mulvihill’s best.
The Evanston senior right-hander surrendered a two-run home run to the second batter he faced, then hurled no-hit baseball the rest of the way as the Wildkits topped Waukegan 8-2 to clinch a 2nd place finish in the Central Suburban League South division standings Wednesday.
The game featured a little bit of everything — including a triple play — as the Wildkits boosted their season record to 21-8 with one game remaining before postseason play opens next week.
Mulvihill struck out a season-high 7 batters and only walked 4 in a distance performance in his final mound appearance at his home field. He retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced following a two-run shot over the Blue Monster Wall in left by Waukegan’s Devonta Cantu as the Bulldogs didn’t come close to a hit after the first inning.
The Kits backed Mulvihill’s effort with rare home runs from both Charlie Maxwell and B.J. Anderson, stretching their winning string to 6 games in a row with Thursday’s makeup game versus Deerfield left to conclude the regular season.
Mulvihill and his teammates proved they’re playoff ready, with the Class 4A Regional set to start a week from Thursday when the Wildkits host Maine South. Evanston is seeded 6th in the Loyola Academy Sectional grouping.
“The last one-third of the season is all about momentum going into the postseason, and now we have a chance to be 8-2 over those last 10 games,” said Evanston head coach Frank Consiglio. “That’s how you win a regional or a sectional, and that’s how you get to be the last team standing. You can’t just flip a switch when the playoffs start.
“We’ve tightened up some things over the last couple of weeks, and there are a lot of things we’re doing really well right now. I feel like we’ve set some things up to make a deep playoff run. To stay with us for 7 innings, you have to execute every single inning against us now. We’ve become a dynamic ballclub.”
Mulvihill stole the spotlight from his mound counterpart, Casanova, even though he may not have lit up the radar guns as much as the Waukegan prospect.
“That’s absolutely the best game I’ve pitched this year,” Mulvihill said. “I could throw my slider on any count today, then come back and attack the hitters with my fastball. And I was able to stay strong later in the game better than I have all year, too.
“Today was actually a learning experience for me. After that home run, Coach Consiglio started calling the pitches (from the bench). He hasn’t done that before, but when he and Tyler (catcher Tyler McHolland) are on the same page like that, I’m as comfortable as any pitcher in the country.
“I saw all the pro scouts with the radar guns but that didn’t faze me much. Coach has been preaching all year that when we get to the end of May, we have to kick it in gear and iron out all the kinks. I think we took a big step against a hard thrower today.”
Casanova allowed 5 runs — only 2 earned — and struck out 7 in his 5-inning mound stint before the Kits reached reliever Guillermo Villarreal for the last 3 runs in the bottom of the 6th.
And Consiglio didn’t have any trouble choosing the winner in the head-to-head mound duel.
“Dylan made good pitches in key counts, and his secondary stuff was really, really good. He definitely out-pitched Casanova,” said the Evanston coach. “I loved the matchup between the two of them. Dylan is such a competitor, and the bigger the moment, the more he performs. That’s why he’s a next-level athlete.”
Consiglio reached deep into his bag of coaching tricks Wednesday. In addition to the long balls from Maxwell and Johnson — Evanston had hit only 1 home run as a team all spring — the coach drew up a squeeze bunt for a run, double steals and hit-and-run plays that can manufacture runs against the best pitchers any team will face in a regional or sectional showdown.
The Wildkits even turned their second triple play of the season after Mulvihill issued back-to-back walks to Felix Enriquez and Cantu to open the 6th inning.
The next hitter, Ryan Johnson, fanned for the first out and Enriquez was caught trying to steal third base on a strong throw from catcher McHolland. The Kits then caught Cantu too far off the bag between first and third, with first baseman Joe Snapp applying the tag for the third out.
Evanston didn’t trail for long after Cantu stunned Mulvihill with his four-bagger in the first. Jesse Heuer socked a leadoff double and the left-handed hitting Maxwell smacked a 345-foot drive over the right field fence to knot the score at 2-2.
Maxwell also played a role as the Kits took a 3-2 lead in the third. He drew a one-out walk, stole second and moved to third on an error. Cleanup hitter Adam Geibel dropped down a squeeze bunt and Maxwell slid in safely under the throw to catcher Juan Villarreal, even though the throw had him beat initially.
Two Waukegan errors and a wild pitch by Casanova plated a pair of unearned runs for the home team in the 4th, and the winners added 3 more runs in the 6th on Johnson’s one-out homer over the Monster, a single by Maxwell, a double by McHolland and Geibel’s sacrifice fly that almost left the park.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.