Loyola Academy’s baseball team didn’t hit better than Evanston. The Ramblers weren’t better than the Wildkits on defense, either. But Loyola’s 9-3 victory over Evanston Saturday at the Class 4A Loyola Sectional tournament championship game showed just how difficult it is to play to your strengths in the one-and-done postseason playoffs.

The Ramblers tagged ETHS pitching ace Henry Haack for 6 runs in the top of the fourth inning and sent the Wildkits to the sidelines with a final record of 23-10-1. Loyola, now 23-9-1, will face Huntley in a supersectional showdown Monday in Schaumburg.

The 1-2 pitching punch of Haack and fellow senior Joe Epler was definitely the strength of the 2018 edition of the Wildkits. Yet both right-handers surrendered uncharacteristic big innings at the sectional level, although ETHS was able to come back from a 5-run deficit with Epler on the mound in the semifinal win over Lane Tech.

This time? There was no coming back.

“The frustrating part about this game today was that I do feel a sense that we beat ourselves a little on the mound today,” admitted Evanston head coach Frank Consiglio. “In both sectional games we didn’t have the mentality of attacking the hitters, and that’s what we’ve done all year. Loyola really took advantage of the mistakes we made on the mound today. They made it hurt. They didn’t let us get away with any mistakes. We had a lot of bad pitches and too many walks (4) in that one inning.

“We spent too much time trying to nibble (around the strike zone) and we know you can’t fear contact by the hitters in the bigger moments of the game.  I felt like their pitcher (Ben Wagner) did a fantastic job in the big moments for them. He attacked and hit our bats, and he didn’t care how many hits he gave up.”

Wagner allowed 9 hits in a distance performance, didn’t walk a batter (although he hit one) and struck out just 3 for the Ramblers. He improved to a perfect 9-0 on the season after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the fourth by permitting just one run.

“The game did turn around at that point,” Consiglio said. “If the bottom of the fourth goes our way, who knows what happens?  But comebacks don’t happen very often once you get to the Sweet 16 or the Elite 8. We played back on our heels a little bit today.”

“You can only pull off so much magic in the state tournament,” said Evanston catcher Fletcher Brown, one of 7 seniors who started for the last time on Saturday. “Loyola cashed in when they had guys in scoring position, and we didn’t.

“This is tough. It hurts. We would have loved to win that sectional plaque.  We’ve been together for ages, since we played 9 and under travel ball together, and we’ve given hours and hours and days and days to this program. And I’d do it all 10 times over again. This is the tightest group of guys I’ve ever played with in any sport, and that’s why it’s so emotional for us right now. We gave our hearts and souls to this program.

“I love this program.”

Evanston seized on an early opening to push across a couple of runs against Wagner in the third. Tommy Barbato reached on a 1-out error, Jake Snider was hit by a pitch, and with 2 outs Adam Geibel and Noah Leib stroked back-to-back RBI singles to break the ice.

After the Ramblers roughed up Haack with a 6-run fourth, an ETHS comeback brewed in the bottom half of the frame as consecutive singles by Harry Porter, Chris Wolfe and Matt Barbato turned up the heat on Wagner.

But pinch-hitter Sawyer Brown popped up for the first out, Snider bounced into a forceout as one run scored, and the Kits settled for just that lone run when Fletcher Brown flied out to right.

The losers also stranded a pair of runners in the fifth when Loyola shortstop Jack Moran threw out Wolfe by just a step to end the inning on a bang-bang play at first base.

Geibel went 3-for-4 for the Wildkits and concluded his career ranked No. 2 on the career hit list in program history. Porter added a pair of hits for the No. 3 seeded Kits.

“This group won what, 23 games, won conference and regional championships and got to the Sweet 16 (in state tournament play). I’ll sign up for a season like that every single year,” said Consiglio. “I’ll miss this group of seniors tremendously.

“For me, the most special part of the season is how much they all love the baseball program. I’ve never had a group that loved the program as much as these guys do. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of them as a coach. That made everything worthwhile, including the time away from my own family, for me.”

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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