Jay Moore realizes that he may be auditioning for a job that doesn’t exist. But whether or not Evanston head baseball coach Frank Consiglio ever names an official closer, Moore wants to be first in line when the game’s on the line for the Wildkits this spring.
Moore earned his first official varsity save Tuesday as the Wildkits opened Central Suburban League play by holding off visiting Vernon Hills 3-2. The senior right-hander hurled two scoreless innings for ETHS, now 7-4-1 overall, and worked out of a first and second, no-out jam in the 7th to secure the win.
For a variety of reasons, most high school teams don’t typically designate any one hurler as a closer. Not that many one-run games are played at that level, for example, and the institution of pitch-count limits by the Illinois High School Association last season has forced some coaches to spread the wealth when it comes to options on the mound.
Consiglio, in his 11th season as ETHS coach, has really only had one legitimate closer --- Jack Anderson --- during that stretch despite the program’s overall success.
Moore? He’s hoping to follow in Anderson’s footsteps and has built trust from his head coach despite only pitching just 1 inning for the Evanston varsity as a junior.
After starting his Wildkit career as an outfielder, Moore decided last year to shift his focus to the mound. He developed a wipeout slider over the summer and became someone Consiglio could lean on in late-game situations.
“He’s got two pitches now (slider and fastball) that he can throw in any count,” Consiglio said. “He’s been really good for us in late-game situations for us this year even though today was his first save. You don’t like to see someone start out walk-walk like he did in the 7th, but he did a nice job of bouncing back. I can’t say that Jay’s been a surprise for us, because after this summer I expected him to be pretty good again.
“One reason we haven’t had an official closer is that most of the pitchers we’ve had since I’ve been here have been guys who pitch to contact, not strikeout pitchers like we have now. As a manager it’s nice to know you have those strikeout guys at the back end of a game. I think it’s more important to have closers (plural) available. I feel like I have 3 or 4 guys I can count on to do that.
“The difference today was the way Cam Mulvihill and Jay put up those zeroes coming out of the pen, because I didn’t feel like we were locked in as a team. But once we put up that 3-spot (in the first inning), I felt confident we could put up some zeroes with our pitching. We have a lot of arms that can cover the last 4 innings.”
“I know I have an arm that isn’t going to last 6 innings like some of the starters,” said Moore. “But when I started training to pitch I got into a groove over the summer and took on the responsibility of trying to get that (closer’s) job. I got more and more comfortable in those situations. I only pitched a little when I was a freshman and a sophomore, and I did get some work with the JV team last year. I think the summer I had allowed me to gain some confidence out there.
“My mindset? It’s still a work in progress. When I’m out there, from my perspective I just try to stay relaxed and take it one pitch at a time. But I want the ball. I like having the pressure on me, and I think that helps me perform better.”
Moore was in pressure situations in both the 6th and 7th. After starter Henry Haack surrendered a pair of unearned runs in the first inning, Evanston answered with all three of its runs in the bottom of the frame. Mulvihill came on to pitch a scoreless 5th --- and then it was Moore’s turn.
An alert defensive play by second baseman Adam Geibel helped bail out the Wildkits in the 6th. With two outs, Vernon Hills’ Josh Liu singled to right. The next Cougar hitter, Caleb Thomson, lined a hit off the glove of first baseman Joe Epler. But Geibel was there to chase down the loose ball and fired a strike to third base to nail Liu in an attempt to take an extra base, ending that rally.
In the 7th, Moore issued free passes to Kyle Fasbinder and Jake Morris, both coming on 3-2 offerings. But he recovered to slip a called third strike past Danny Wizceb, fanned pinch-hitter Jack Barszczc, and retired pinch-hitter Derek Jerrell on a grounder to the right side to clinch the win.
The hosts relied on the wildness of Cougars’ starter Wizceb to push across all the runs they needed in the first. With the bases filled thanks to two walks and a Geibel single, Wizceb hit Jake Snider with a pitch to force in a run, then issued back-to-back walks to Harry Porter and Ben Ellman before finally inducing an inning-ending grounder to the mound for a double play from Nadav Sered-Schoenberg.
The winners mustered only two hits after that, a single by Geibel in the second and Noah Leib’s infield hit in the fourth.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.