Evanston’s baseball team struck out more than 200 times this season and that’s just one of the reasons the Wildkits finished with a losing record.
But the Wildkits rarely saw the kind of pitching they encountered Thursday in the opening round of the Class 4A Maine West Regional tournament.
Maine West left-hander Evan Olson kept pouring in a major league fastball and struck out 16 --- including 10 in a row at one point --- and ended Evanston’s season with a 9-1 victory.
Olson allowed only two hits --- a leadoff single by Josh Lipman in the first inning and a pinch-hit double by Ben Baker-Katz in the seventh --- and simply overpowered the losers. Evanston finished with a final mark of 14-17, the first losing record for the program since 2009.
How futile was Evanston’s attack? Olson struck out the side on 15 pitches after Lipman’s single; whiffed 3 straight batters in the second with just 10 pitches; and repeated that effort in the third, requiring only 14 pitches.
Maine West (14-13) advanced to the regional championship game set for Saturday against the No. 1 sectional seed, Oak Park-River Forest, but won’t be able to send out a pitcher even close to Olson’s velocity against the Huskies.
The lefty’s fastball would have measured around 85 miles per hour if there was a radar gun in the neighborhood.
ETHS head coach Frank Consiglio couldn’t do anything but tip his cap to an opponent after his squad’s early exit.
“When you’ve got a horse like that out on the mound, it changes everything,” Consiglio said. “He struck out 10 in a row and we couldn’t even put the ball in play against him. It’s hard enough to try to beat an ace like that, but when you have strikeout after strikeout after strikeout, it takes the heart out of you. It’s hard to regroup.
“He’s definitely one of the top three pitchers we’ve faced this year. Today speaks to the how important an ace is to a team in primetime (postseason) baseball. He just dominated us for that 4-inning stretch. That’s one of the better arms we’ve seen and his command was great. He’s a legitimate ace.”
The Warriors, who defeated the Kits 4-2 during the regular season, tagged losing pitcher Cameron Mulvihill for 4 runs and 9 hits in the first four innings, then tacked on 5 more runs in the sixth against reliever Henry Eberhart.
Mulvihill surrendered a pair of triples to leadoff hitter Justin Scholler and another 3-bagger by the No. 8 hitter, Enrique Melendez. Olson helped his own cause with a pair of run-scoring singles, but the Warriors didn’t need that much offense to secure the win.
Olson’s only nervous moments came in the Evanston sixth. The southpaw, who hadn’t even reached a 3-ball count in any at-bat up until then, walked the bases loaded as Joe Bergmann, Lipman and Eli Gingold all drew free passes with one out.
Evanston’s leading hitter, Noah Leib, hammered a drive that would have been out of just about any other ballpark, but the spacious confines of the Warriors field (380 feet to left, 390 to center, 340 down the right field line) helped right fielder Melendez find room to haul in the 360 foot blast.
The sacrifice fly broke the shutout, but the rally died then when Sawyer Brown also flied out to end the inning.
“As soon as they caught Noah’s fly ball, the air really went out of us,” Consiglio added. “Their kid did a great job of pounding the zone. Catch a guy like this (as a mound opponent), and your season’s over.”