Russell Snapp began his varsity mound career at Evanston with the kind of pitching line that even a sabermetrician couldn’t spin into something positive.
But after yielding 4 hits, 9 runs, 7 earned runs, 4 walks and 1 hit batter in his debut against Niles West in one and one-third innings back on May 3 of 2013, Snapp has done nothing but win.
The senior right-hander recorded his 20th victory — a career record at ETHS — Monday versus Maine South and is the only hurler in school history to win both regional and sectional championship games. He’s actually 3-for-3 in that category and will take the mound attempting to improve on that mark when the Wildkits (28-7-1) play Oak Park-River Forest (30-7) in the title game of the Class 4A Niles West Sectional tournament on Saturday.
Snapp has come a long way since he was a lanky sophomore who earned a promotion to the varsity after striking out 17 batters against Maine South in his final start on the sophomore level. But he’ll never forget his first varsity start — because he wasn’t sure he’d even get another chance at that point.
“I got out there in the cold and the rain, and I just felt not so good. And they (ETHS coaching staff) expected so much, and I gave up a bunch of runs, so I wasn’t sure I’d get another chance,” Snapp recalled. “The strike zone was so much smaller, and the hitters were bigger and stronger and better. It was a big adjustment for me.”
“He was over-matched in every way in that game against Niles West. His first start wasn’t a good one, but he got better in each one after that,” said Wildkit head coach Frank Consiglio. “When he came back for his junior year he was just phenomenal. He’s always been a pretty mature kid, and I think it actually helped him to get a little bit of a head start as a sophomore.”
Snapp scored wins over Von Steuben and Niles North as a sophomore, then posted a 9-3 won-loss record as a junior while leading the Kits to the Elite Eight. He’ll take a 9-2 mark and a 1.72 earned run average into the matchup with Oak Park with his reputation as a “big game” pitcher already firmly established.
Snapp can’t wait to take on the Huskies.
“I know I have to go in there and keep the ball low against them,” he said. “I’m going to come out there so hungry. Being able to win regional and sectional championships back-to-back would really make me so happy.
“I love playing the game and I really love playoff baseball. Everything is so intensified in the playoffs, it’s not just another game after a school day. Every pitch, every play is so intense because the competition is usually so good. It’s a big deal to win in the playoffs.”
Snapp’s path to success didn’t include any short-cuts. He was only considered the No. 3 or No. 4 starter for the Evanston freshman team, then blossomed into an elite hurler over the next three seasons.
And he re-invented himself as a pitcher despite thriving with a devastating curve ball on the lower levels. Now he’s become a fastball-slider hurler, with the occasional curve or change-up also in the mix.
“I was a pretty average player when I was a freshman,” Snapp said. “But that summer I grew 4 inches and put on 35 pounds, and I also worked on my mechanics. I got obsessed with lifting weights — for baseball and to look good at the beach, too — and I grew a lot, too. That added 6 or 7 miles per hour to my fastball, and I had developed a pretty good curve by that point.
“My junior year coach Consiglio asked me to try a slider, and he really liked what I did with it.”
“I don’t know if Russell is the best pitcher Evanston’s ever had,” said Consiglio, who has coached the Wildkits for the past eight seasons. “But he’s accomplished the most. He’s put together an outstanding career. That speaks to his durability, to the way he takes care of his body, and to not trying to do too much when he’s out there on the mound. He’s a very hard worker and he has a calmness about him when he’s out there pitching. He always gives a maximum effort.
“The last two years he’s gotten (pitched against) every other team’s best starters in big games. He doesn’t get rattled. He throws strikes, he stays low in the zone, and he’s really lights out when he can execute that slider. At the high school level, velocity is what gets part of the lineup out. But against better teams like the ones you see in the playoffs , you’re not going to blow it by anybody. He’ll get you the strikeouts in key spots, though.”
“His curve was his go-to pitch when he was a sophomore, and I remember in that game against Maine South that they just could not touch it,” said ETHS senior catcher Sam Evans, who has been behind the plate for most of those varsity victories. “Now he has a slider that looks the same as his fastball, and that’s what keeps hitters so off-balance. Last year at the sectional he must have thrown 50-60 percent sliders.
“When Russ starts hitting his spots, and I’m doing my own thing framing his pitches, it’s gonna be a good day for us. You couldn’t ask for a better guy, or a better pitcher than Russ. He’s one of the most confident kids I’ve ever known, but he’s not cocky. He just knows himself and works that confidence to his advantage out there.”
Snapp’s milestone 20th victory came as a surprise to the right-hander. He learned about it at the recent ETHS senior sports banquet, and he was actually aiming at another school record this spring. Mike Maroto’s 11-3 single season record back in 1990 was the mark he had designs on.
“I don’t know if that’s attainable now, but I was taken aback when I heard about the 20th win,” said Snapp, who will play at Division III Occidental College in California next year. “That’s pretty cool, because the program has been around for a long time.
“But I wouldn’t have gotten close to 20 wins without so much help from my teammates. I’ve become more of a ground ball pitcher, and both last year and this year our infield defense was so tight. In plenty of those wins, we needed lots of good fielding behind me to get it done.”
Source: ETHS Sports Information