Riding a tractor and putting in extra time attempting to groom the landscape at Evanston’s baseball field prior to the season opener, head coach Frank Consiglio pointed out that “there’s still a pile of snow out deep in right field.
“That’s OK. We might not hit the ball out there — but we’re not planning on letting anyone hit it out there against us, either.”
With the top three pitchers returning from last year’s Elite Eight qualifier, Consiglio knows his team is well-armed for a season that is supposed to start Tuesday — weather permitting — with a game at Ridgewood. Now the challenge for the ETHS coach and his staff is to try to find a way to manufacture enough offense to make the Wildkits contenders again in the Central Suburban League South division and in the postseason.
Evanston will have to replace the leading slugger in school history — graduated first baseman Eli Otting, who socked a school record 11 home runs last spring — and five other position starters. But the Kits are still strong up the middle, where the foundation for any baseball success is built, and especially on the mound.
Pitchers Russell Snapp, James Allen and Dylan Mulvhill combined for 19 of Evanston’s victories and 5 saves for a team that went 23-14-1 and captured only the third sectional championship in school history. And Consiglio expects even more this time around for seniors Snapp and Allen and junior Mulvihill.
“There will be more pressure on them this year, but how many runs did they give up in the state tournament last year? We’ll just look for them to be themselves again this year, and spread in some of the younger pitchers who are still developing,” said Consiglio.
“It’s true that those pitchers won’t fly under the radar this year. But the (mental) makeup is there for them to handle the expectations, and the talent is there, too. They don’t shy away, they attack hitters, and they’re not going to beat themselves. Dylan (6-foot-5) is bigger and stronger and I honestly think all 3 of them will pitch better this year.”
Allen struggled over the second half of the season last year and suffered his only blown save of the season in the 7-6 supersectional loss to South Elgin. He’ll anchor the bullpen again and may earn some spot starts along with senior Zach Anderson, who compiled a 2-1 won-loss record with a 1.82 earned run average in limited action last year.
“Zach pitched some good games for us last year,” Consiglio said. “He executes his pitches well and I think he’s one year stronger mentally. He’s his own worst critic and he needs to develop that ‘next pitch’ mentality. Like all pitchers he needs to have a short memory and just go after the next pitch. His velocity is up this year, and I’m looking for him to start some games.”
On the field, Consiglio will continue a “defense first” philosophy to back up those hurlers. Catcher Sam Evans returns as a starter and middle-of-the-order hitter after batting .278 as a junior, although he can expect a challenge from a promising junior, Tyler McHolland.
Charlie Maxwell returns to his natural position, shortstop, after starting at third base last spring and proving punch and speed at the top of the order with a .463 on-base percentage and .320 batting average. He scored 22 runs, third best on the team.
Mark Roth (“a very good defensive player”) figures to handle second base and another senior, Justin Farrow, will anchor the outfield in center field.
“I feel like we’ll have the best shortstop in the league. Charlie will be a third baseman at the next level and he can play anywhere,” Consiglio said. “And our leadership has been good so far, too. We’re not searching for middle infielders or for pitching, and when you have to do that at the high school level, that’s usually when you’re in trouble.
“The only real question marks we have are in the outfield and at first base. There’s a lot that still has to be played out yet.”
Allen, who supplied an offensive spark as a designated hitter last year, is ticketed to share first base duties with senior Miles Porter. Porter batted .308 but had just 15 plate appearances as a junior.
Top candidates to secure jobs in the outfield are seniors Quinn Mannard and Ben Drake, who had just 26 at-bats between them last spring.
“I think we’ve put together some consistency now as a program,” said Consiglio, who is entering his 7th season at the helm. “We have the expectations to be a winning program and last year we took it to the next level. You’re not going to win a sectional every year, but generally the carryover effect for us is that they’ll come back more confident because they’ve been there, done that in the big moments.”
Source: ETHS Sports Information