Only at the high school level of baseball can pitchers be just wild enough to keep opponents from hitting well.
But that formula backfired on Hersey Friday as Evanston made an in-game adjustment and scored an 8-7 triumph in the Wildkits’ home opener.
The Wildkits bunched 10 walks — and just 2 hits — and improved to 5-7 on the season as junior Josh Lipman’s two-out single up the middle chased home what turned out to be the winning runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. The game was called after 6 innings due to darkness.
The fact that Lipman’s blow was the first hit for the winners was a surprise to veteran coach Frank Consiglio. So was his young team’s ability to adjust their offensive approach against 3 Hersey pitchers who couldn’t throw strikes.
“I didn’t realize we didn’t have a hit until then,” said Consiglio. “We’re always telling our kids that we don’t want them to just take pitches, we want them to take for a reason, so they can get to their ‘go’ pitch (a pitch a hitter can drive). But after watching the approach Hersey’s pitchers were taking — they weren’t executing 2 strikes in a row — we knew we had to be stubborn and more disciplined at the plate.
“We started using that word ‘stubborn’ more in our dugout. You can’t get into a rhythm against pitchers who can’t throw strikes, and I was proud of the adjustments they made. You just have to find a way to win sometimes and that’s what we did. As a team, we had to get out of our comfort zone, and it was a different game when we made that (collective) decision.”
The Wildkits scored their first 5 runs without benefit of a hit against Huskies’ starter Hunter Luke and Ryan Trachsel, with two Hersey errors and a dropped third strike also contributing for the home team. But the Kits still trailed 6-5 before mounting a comeback in the bottom of the fifth.
Ben Baker-Katz and Eli Gingold drew free passes to start the rally and moved up a base when the third Hersey pitcher, lefty Caleb Bontje, retired David Milazzo on a sacrifice bunt.
Bontje whiffed Tommy Barbato for the second out, but Lipman grounded a 1-2 pitch sharply through the middle and plated the tying and go-ahead runs. The junior outfielder then scored an insurance run on Noah Leib’s opposite field RBI hit.
Henry Eberhart, the third ETHS pitcher to see action, recorded the final out in the sixth after yielding a single and a walk that helped Hersey close the gap to the final of 8-7.
Lipman’s clutch hit out of the No. 2 spot in the batting order proved the junior is the right man in the right slot in the order now. He’s had no trouble adjusting to the next level in his first varsity season, batting over .450 on the year, after starting out hitting in the bottom half of the order while Consiglio sorted out his lineup.
Now Lipman is a fixture in that No. 2 slot.
“I knew Josh was talented — and I recognized his work ethic, too,” Consiglio pointed out. “We all work really hard in the off-season, and in the pre-season, but he stood out to me. He started out the year batting in the No. 7-8 spots but I saw his good approach at the plate and that fact that he wasn’t bothered by (opposing pitchers’) velocity. He has a good eye, and for a junior to possess all of that is really something.
“Finding someone for that No. 2 hole is a real challenge in high school baseball. He’s had so many good at-bats for us already that I’ve actually moved away from the ‘small ball’ approach I usually have with that No. 2 spot.
“We’ve really made some rapid improvement over the last 7 or 8 games and we’re starting to progress even quicker than I thought we would.”
ETHS starting pitcher Renard Goodwill only yielded 4 hits — 2 of the infield variety — in his 4 and two-thirds innings but allowed an RBI single to Hersey’s Luke Picchiotti with 2 outs in the 5th, and departed after an error cost the Kits another run.