Gina Hopf found a unique way to make a softball opponent pay for walking her intentionally Saturday afternoon.
How? With an acting performance worthy of an Academy Award.
The Evanston senior helped the Wildkits steal a wild 15-14, 8-inning victory over Chicago Taft in the ETHS home opener and a 3-hit shutout performance by pitcher Zoe Kurtzer allowed the hosts to finish off the doubleheader sweep with a 10-0 triumph in Game 2.
A bases-loaded trick play triggered by Hopf allowed teammate Meg Eisfelder to steal home with the game-winning run in the bottom of the 8th inning, the culmination of Evanston’s newfound aggressive mindset under first-year head coach Katie Perkins. It was Evanston’s 9th stolen base of the game and the Kits never stopped running.
Trailing 14-13 in the 8th — after once leading 12-4 — the Kits climbed back into the game when Maddy Managlia drew a leadoff walk, Eisfelder was hit by a pitch and Lucy Hart’s grounder produced a throwing error by losing pitcher Amy Steibing to tie the score.
With runners on second and third, the Eagles wisely issued a free pass to Hopf, who had two triples and a double in her first three plate appearances.
With no outs and the bags filled, on an 0-1 pitch to Grace Elwood, Hopf suddenly sprinted full bore toward second base — even though teammate Hart was already standing on the bag.
Confused by the apparent gaffe, Taft’s defense didn’t react until it was too late and Eisfelder picked the perfect moment to dash home with the winning run.
“When I saw the sign — yes, we have a sign for that play — I thought I’d better buckle down and make it look like I don’t know what I’m doing,” Hopf said. “I was scared because I’m not a good actress. But it’s all about executing, and getting into a pickle so the pitcher doesn’t know what to do with the ball. I’m so glad it worked. It was a lotta fun to win that way.
“Coach Perkins has had us really working hard on aggressive baserunning. Last year as a team I think we were more passive, more timid and we have a different mindset now. We go into games knowing we can beat these teams. And it’s a lot more fun being more aggressive.”
The trick play was also pulled off by a different set of Evanston runners in Friday’s season-opening 11-8 loss to St. Ignatius.
“We’ve been working the past two weeks on how to be aggressive and how to react to certain situations,” Perkins said. “That play was part of our first week of practice and it’s been very effective so far. We can’t advertise it too much (to opponents), but you’ve got to find ways to score.
“It’s a great way to win a game, but we never should have been in that position. We gave up 10 walks and we had 5 errors, and take those away and it’s not even a game.”
Evanston banged out five triples in the first three innings, including a pair of three-baggers by Hopf, and jumped on the Eagles for a 12-4 advantage. But Taft kept chipping away at ETHS starting pitcher Jaden Janzen and knocked her out of the game with a 5-run outburst in the 4th that cut the deficit to 12-9, and the visitors struck for four more runs in the 7th to tie the contest against reliever Elwood.
Elwood then surrendered a two-out triple to Taft’s Yvette Sanchez in the top of the 8th that gave the visitors an edge that turned out to be temporary.
On offense, Evanston ripped 16 hits led by Hopf (3-for-5, 2 runs-batted-in), Managlia (3-for-5, RBI), Hannah Schaps (3-for-4, 2 RBI) and Kendra Klamm (3-for-5, RBI). The Wildkits added 12 more hits in the nightcap to back the 3-hit pitching of Kurtzer in her 2016 debut.
Zoe mowed down the first 10 batters she faced and only ran into trouble in the 6th when two singles and an error helped Taft load the bases with two outs. She retired pinch-hitter Steibing on a fly ball to right to preserve the shutout.
Hart led Evanston’s hit parade with three singles and two RBI, and Eisfelder added a pair of doubles and two RBI for the winners. Hart’s third hit of the game scored Managlia with the run that put the 10-run slaughter rule into effect with two outs in the 6th.
“This lineup has been pretty solid across the board so far, and it’s very exciting to watch,” said Perkins. “This team has more power than we’ve had here in the past, and the speed definitely helps, too. It was a real team effort today. We’ve got so much room for growth, and we’re way better than we think we are.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.