Evanston’s softball team may be on pace to set a team record for home runs this spring.
But it was the ability to play “small ball” that kept the Wildkits unbeaten in Central Suburban League South division play Thursday.
Small ball led to Evanston’s biggest inning of the season, a 9-run outburst in the bottom of the sixth inning, as the Kits defeated Niles North 12-4 and stretched their winning string to 7 in a row.
Bunt singles by Gwyn Hodges and Hallie Cleland, plus a safety squeeze by Hannah Schaps that scored the go-ahead run, set the table for a pair of 3-run home runs by Caroline Job and Meg Eisfelder as the Wildkits overcame a 4-3 deficit and improved to 9-1 on the season, 2-0 in league play.
ETHS head coach Katie Perkins expects all of her players to be able to execute in bunt situations and refuses to rely on just flipping the power switch, even though you need more than the fingers on one hand to count the number of Wildkit hitters who are capable of taking an opposing pitcher deep this year.
Perkins even called on the No. 3 hitter in the ETHS order — senior Megan Chambers — to put down a bunt when the “book” called for that strategy with the Kits trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth.
Chambers has been a middle-of-the-order hitter for most of her high school career and hasn’t seen the bunt signal much. But when Job drew a full-count walk to start the fifth, the senior captain pushed a bunt to the right side that turned out to be a hit when North first baseman Dorothea Watkins couldn’t decide where to throw the ball.
The runners wound up on second and third, and Job scored the tying run on Katie Parcell’s sacrifice fly. There was no stopping the hosts after that.
“I was a little surprised when I got the sign, but the situation called for a bunt and it totally made sense to me,” said Chambers. “Our hitting just wasn’t there and I’ve been in a bit of a rut, so I’m really happy that I was able to help out and do something productive to get something going.
“We all practice bunting for every game — we did that last year, too — and I guess we’re a small ball team when we need to get something happening. That’s the reason we practice it so much, so we can make something happen when we’re not hitting.
“We definitely showed what we were made of in that last inning. It’s really, really important that every one of us is super versatile on this team. We all can bring so many talents and that’s what makes this team special.”
“I’ll ask any one of these players to bunt at any time. It’s a required piece for you to be in that batting order,” Perkins explained. “You can never expect home runs because it’s really a luxury whenever you get them. In that situation today it was needed to make something happen, and small ball is what set the table for us.
“Niles North wasn’t very successful fielding bunts, and their third baseman played deep, so we were able to take advantage of that. I expect them all to be able to bunt.
North senior right-hander Isabel Rolon limited the hosts to just two hits — a double by Schaps in the second and a bunt single by Schaps in the fourth — before ETHS pulled into a 4-4 deadlock in the fifth.
Eisfelder opened the sixth with a long double to center field, and the rout was on. Hodges beat out a bunt for a hit, Schaps and Eisefelder worked out a safety squeeze to perfection, and Cleland followed with another bunt single to keep the rally alive.
Rolon fanned Lucy Hart for the second out, but Job blasted a 1-0 pitch over the center field fence for her second homer of the season. An infield hit by Chambers and an outfielder error came next, Jaden Janzen ripped an RBI single to left, and Eisfelder crushed a 3-run homer of her own to right center.
Hodges’ second hit of the game and an RBI double by Schaps completed the onslaught by ETHS.
Starting pitcher Janzen struck out 6 in her 4-inning stint, yet also surrendered a 2-run homer to Vikings’ cleanup hitter Alyssa Aragon in the third to give the visitors the lead. Freshman Molly Chambers earned the win in relief, pitching 3 scoreless frames and striking out 5 of the 11 hitters she faced.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.