Cameron Mulvihill is the first winner of the “Character Belt”, a heavyweight boxing-type of trophy that typically goes to an Evanston baseball player who displays grittiness and perseverance during the team’s off-season workouts.
But ETHS head coach Frank Consiglio could have awarded about a dozen other belts Monday at Northwestern University’s Rocky Miller Park.
The streaking Wildkits stretched their winning string to 4 in a row and dumped rival New Trier 14-5 in one of their most complete performances of the spring. Winning pitcher Mulvihill struck out 10 in his 5-inning stint, Chris Wolfe drove in 5 runs and contributed an inside-the-park home run, and the Kits stroked 15 hits overall in the Central Suburban League South division triumph.
At 13-14 overall, the Wildkits are playing their best baseball of the spring now that the calendar has flipped to May. And somewhere the team’s late assistant coach, Ross Freeland, is smiling down on their effort.
Freeland was the one responsible for creating various challenges — and the awarding of the Character Belt — during off-season workouts as a motivational tool for the players to help them persevere through the toughest of times.
There have been plenty of tough times this spring, and the jury is still out on whether the Wildkits can avoid their first losing season since 2009. But Mulvihill’s determined effort on the mound combined with a better approach overall on offense shows that ETHS is primed and ready for a big finish to the year.
Six different players belted multiple hits as Evanston scored in every inning except the third on Monday. New Trier fell to 18-12 on the year as 5 different Trevian pitchers couldn’t keep the Kits off the scoreboard.
“It means a lot to me to get that belt, and it means a lot to beat New Trier,” said Mulvihill, who permitted 2 earned runs and 2 unearned runs while fanning 10. “I’m glad I had a lot of run support today, because that’s been an issue for us in the past. Today we showed New Trier what our bats can do, even against their ace (losing pitcher Andrew Kost). We were just better than they were today.
“As the ace, I want to give my team the best shot to win every time I pitch, and if I go deep then I can save our bullpen for another time.”
Consiglio said he didn’t mind the fact that Wolfe’s inside-the-park round-tripper was Evanston’s only extra base hit on the day. After all, ETHS has only one other homer (by Noah Leib) in 27 games so far.
“I LOVE the fact that we had that many singles,” said the veteran coach. “We’ve talked a lot this past week about who we are, what is our identity when we’re at the plate? We really needed 3-4-5-6-7 good at-bats in a row to be a good baseball team, and that’s what we did today. We had our hands ready and we had our bats ready and I really didn’t see many bad ‘takes’ against pitches we could hit, either.
“I’m most excited about the way we were able to string those good at-bats together. I’m seeing more of that this past week. Today, we put everything together.”
ETHS tallied single runs in the first and second, then tacked on 3 in the 4th, 4 in the 5th, 2 in the 6th and 3 in the 7th to put the hurt on their arch-rivals.
Those early scores helped Mulvihill through some rough sports, although New Trier did pull into a 2-2 tie against the senior left-hander and then pushed across two unearned runs in the fourth when shortstop Tommy Barbato committed two errors on the same play on what should have been an inning ending twin killing.
That defensive lapse didn’t matter because the ETHS offense was nothing short of relentless. Wolfe’s 2-out drive to deep left center with teammates Leib and pinch-runner Ben Baker-Katz on base produced 3 runs when the Trevian defense couldn’t track down the ball until the speedy senior had circled the bases.
Wolfe went 2-for-4, driving in additional runs with a sacrifice fly in the second and a bases-loaded fly ball single in the 7th. Josh Lipman, Leib, Barbato, Connor Groff and Nolan Clarke all had 2 hits in the lopsided affair, with second baseman Clarke also contributing the defensive gem of the game, a diving stop on a hard grounder hit by New Trier’s Preston Anderson to snuff out a bases-loaded threat.
“I thought Cam was excellent for us today,” Consiglio praised. “I’ve been waiting for a special moment to award that belt after a game, and I want to hold them to the highest possible standard. This is dedicated to Coach Freeland and things are starting to piece together for us.”