Despite the fact that the Wildkits won 4 of 6 games against strong competition during last week’s spring break trip to Florida, Evanston baseball coach Frank Consiglio knew something was amiss.
When it came to grinding out quality at-bats — something the Kits have hung their hat on as a program since Consiglio took over — all of his players weren’t on the same page.
Evanston took a step back in the right direction on a chilly Monday night at Kerry Wood Stadium in Chicago, working Buffalo Grove’s pitching staff for 8 walks and grinding out an 8-1 victory over the Bison in a non-conference matchup.
It wasn’t much fun for the hardy dozen ETHS spectators to sit through all of those pitches in see-your-breath weather, but the results pushed the Kits to their 5th win in their last 7 games and an overall won-loss record of 6-4.
Evanston wore down the losers by working a total of 9 at-bats to 3-2 counts and that took a toll on Buffalo Grove hurlers T.J. Constertina, Zach Fricke and Connor Adams. Combine the 8 walks they issued with 6 timely hits by the winners, including 2 by sophomore Noah Leib, and that’s a formula for victory for any Consiglio-coached team.
“What we don’t want is for our guys just to go up there looking for walks, because at the end of the year (postseason play) those No. 1 pitchers will just throw it right by you,” Consiglio said. “The learning curve for our younger guys is that they don’t go into an at-bat thinking they need to see a lot of pitches, because you get down 1 strike and then you’re in trouble. Your mindset has to be selfish, and it’s about getting to your pitch and not expanding your zone early in the count.
“The older guys understand that grinding doesn’t have to mean seeing a lot of pitches. Tonight we didn’t swing at bad pitches and we didn’t expand the zone. They saw a lot of pitches and that puts a lot of pressure on the other team when you do that.
“Coming out of that trip the stats said that we still needed more quality at-bats from the No. 6 and No. 7 holes in the order, and I thought both Harry Porter and Ben Ellman did a great job of that tonight. We made their pitcher (starter Constertina) throw a lot of pitches (44) in the first inning and that made a big difference.”
ETHS struck for 4 runs in the first inning and then tacked on 2 more in the 5th and 6th frames under the lights on the artificial turf field located adjacent to Lane Tech High School. That was more than enough offense to back up a second straight dominant start by winning pitcher Henry Haack, now 2-1 on the season. Haack struck out 10 and scattered 8 hits, allowing just one earned run, before reliever Will Peterson mopped up with a scoreless 7th.
“We didn’t call one pitch from the bench tonight, and you have to give a lot of credit to the relationship between Henry and (catcher) Fletcher Brown,” said the ETHS coach. “Henry’s been dominant for two starts in a row now and he and Fletcher were really in sync tonight. The only run Buffalo Grove scored came on that dribbler down the third base line (with 2 outs in the 6th) and they’re so effective working together.”
Brown, a rarity as a catcher who is a leadoff hitter but has the on-base percentage to back up the strategy, started the first-inning rally with a single. Pinch-runner Tommy Barbato moved to second base on a wild pitch and scored when Leib grounded an RBI single up the middle.
Constertina issued 3 consecutive free passes with one out to keep the rally alive. Joe Epler scored on a wild pitch, a free pass to Porter on a 3-2 pitch forced another run across, and Ellman’s infield out produced another run to build the lead to 4-0.
Evanston scored twice in the fifth against reliever Fricke, the son of New Trier head basketball coach Scott Fricke. A walk, an error, Epler’s RBI infield groundout and a perfectly-placed two-out bunt single by Porter did the damage in that frame.
In the sixth, walks to Matt Barbato and Brown set the stage and both Adam Geibel and Epler delivered RBI singles for the winners.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.