Evanston stranded four baserunners in the first two innings Wednesday at the Class 4A Lane Tech Sectional baseball tournament. And New Trier pitcher Thomas Nugent made sure opportunity never knocked again.
Nugent hurled a two-hit shutout and faced just one batter above the minimum over the last five innings as top-seeded New Trier eased to a 5-0 victory and ended Evanston’s postseason run.
New Trier, which outscored the Wildkits 7-6 and 18-11 in two regular season meetings, completed the season sweep and advanced to the sectional championship game with a 28-4 record. No. 4 seed Evanston went to the sidelines with a final mark of 25-12.
Both teams turned to starters — Nugent and ETHS senior Chris Brown — who didn’t see action on the mound in the regular season matchups between the two rivals. Nugent allowed only a bloop single by Fletcher Brown in the second inning and a line single by Jake Urdangen with two outs in the seventh, along with two hit batters, one walk and six strikeouts.
Brown, meanwhile, suffered his only loss of the spring after six consecutive victories. His pitching line included six walks, three hit batters and three hits allowed, including a two-run home run by Matt Kann, in 4 and 2-3 innings on the mound.
The Wildkits were shut out for just the second time this season and ETHS head coach Frank Consiglio was the first to admit that he didn’t recognize the team that showed up Wednesday. Evanston’s trademark all season has been the ability to grind out at-bats and grind down opposing pitchers, but the Kits couldn’t get it done against the Trevian right-hander.
“Their kid did an outstanding job against us today, and the best team won,” Consiglio said. “He made us swing at the pitches early in the count that he wanted us to swing at, and we didn’t make any in-game adjustments. It’s a credit to his stuff, because he had really good movement with his pitches and hit his spots. He did a really nice job of keeping us off-balance.
“It was a combination of him being really good and us not taking good approaches. You have to give him a ton of credit, but I thought it was more about us getting ourselves out early in the counts. We got two guys on base in each of those first two innings, but their pitcher didn’t let us play our game.”
Evanston had a chance to strike early when B.J. Johnson was hit by a pitch and Jesse Heuer hit a deep fly to left center that New Trier centerfielder Eric Nicholas dropped with one out. But Nugent reached back and fanned both Brown and Joe Epler to end that threat.
In the ETHS second, Brown’s bloop single to start the inning looked promising. But Urdangen bounced into a forceout, Jake Snider struck out, and after Matt Reynolds was hit with a pitch, Johnson went down swinging on a 2-2 fastball to end the inning.
A walk to Brown in the fourth marked the only other baserunner for the losers until Urdangen singled in the seventh.
Brown’s inability to command both his fastball and curve had the senior righty in constant trouble, but the Trevs only broke through in the third when Nicholas walked on four pitches and Kann hammered an opposite field homer. Brown issued back-to-back walks to Kann and Kevin Donahue to start the New Trier fifth, and didn’t survive the inning following a passed ball, a sacrifice fly by Cam Redding and a two-run single by Sean Douaire following an intentional walk.
ETHS senior Joe Snapp finally retired the side in relief with a strikeout, and classmate Matt Anderson tossed a scoreless sixth for the losers.
“When Chris Brown can execute with his curve, he’s tough out there,” said Consiglio. “He only had one hiccup (bad start) for us all year and I’d even say this one was OK. He’s been dominant for us all season and he deserved this start today.”
Evanston won 20 games for the fifth year in a row and this might have been the least-talented Wildkit team — at least on paper coming into the season — to accomplish that feat.
“It’s true, we didn’t have a lot of high-powered talent this year,” said Heuer, one of five senior starters in the season finale. “We started off poorly, but then we got on a run once Adam Geibel (shoulder injury) came back. We put the pieces together by putting together our best effort every single day, and our coaches really worked their tails off.”
Consiglio told his somber players in the post-game meeting that they had exceeded expectations this spring, even though the bar is set consistently high in the program now.
“I don’t like to use the word over-achieve, because it can demean what you did this year,” said the ETHS coach. “But you did a helluva job and it’s a credit to all of you, and to the way you all worked together.
“It’s a fair assessment to say I’m surprised we won 25 games this year. They over-achieved a little in a lot of areas. This is a tough day, but I couldn’t be more proud of them. I feel like they got every ounce out of what they had.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.