Entering his 7th season as Evanston’s head baseball coach, Frank Consiglio knows you can never have too many seniors — or too many pitchers.
The Wildkits have plenty of both this spring, maybe enough to make a run at their first Central Suburban League South division championship since the 1990 season.
With seven position starters returning from a team that won 22 games a year ago, ETHS will field a veteran group that knows how to win. Now, if Consiglio can sort out the front and back ends of the pitching rotation, the Wildkits could make the 2014 campaign one to remember.
“We do have a nice mix of seniors, the most we’ve had since 2008,” the coach pointed out. “It’s very heavy with seniors and that’s always a good thing. You can’t replace experience. When you have that kind of experience, it takes the pressure off in situations where you really need to execute well. Then, it’s just down to effort.
“That kind of experience really usually shows up in the first half of the season, when you can do the little things, like your ability to execute in the running game. If you have experience, you have a tendency to be a little bit ahead of the other teams.”
All-CSL South outfielder Michael Pope heads up the group of returning starters at also includes shortstop Jack Blanchard, outfielder Peter Downie, third baseman Joe Franke, first baseman Eli Otting, second baseman Marty Fenn and Jackson Mihevc. Catcher/designated hitter Alex Klier, outfielder Sam Spiwak, infielder Mark Roth, infielder Ben Marienthal and outfielder Nate Brieva are other seniors counted on to contribute as position players.
A total of 15 players list “pitcher” as their primary or secondary positions, and that gives Consiglio and his staff plenty of options on the mound. Ironically, the veteran coach would probably have listed the mound staff as his No. 1 concern — and a potential weakness — until workouts began a couple of weeks ago.
Junior James Allen turned in four strong innings in Evanston’s debut, an 18-2 romp over Prairie Ridge, and has emerged as a likely No. 1 starter after pitching at the top of the sophomore rotation last year along with classmate Russel Snapp.
Although Evanston’s spring break trip to Florida — the squad will play 7 games in 6 games there, weather permitting — will still serve as the best test to figure out who’ll start and who’ll relieve, Consiglio has taken a slightly different approach this year when it comes to the arms race.
He’s using scrimmages and practice situations as opportunities to catch the coaching staff’s eyes, instead of just tossing players into the mound mix in game situations when they might not be ready yet.
“I have adjusted my mindset this year,” Consiglio said. “I’m not going to put them in games now until they’ve earned it in live situations in practice. We won’t feel things out in games this year. Right now I think this is the most depth I’ve ever had here. It depends how much those guys in the 2, 3 and 4 spots improve.
“We didn’t have James Allen as our No. 1 coming into the spring, but he just flat out beat out everyone else. In the preseason he clearly out-performed everyone else. He uses both sides of the plate, executes with his curveball and does a good job of controlling the (opponents’) running game. He’s not the hardest thrower on the team, but he really executes well with his secondary pitches. And if we want to win the conference this year, we have to match up against the No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers that other teams will throw out there on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Pitching is even bigger on the high school level than anywhere else. Championships are won on the mound.”
Leading candidates to join Allen in the rotation currently are Blanchard, Otting, 6-foot-4 sophomore Dylan Mulvihill and senior Mackenzie O’Neil. Senior Daniel Schoenfeld and Snapp could also be in the mix somewhere, along with Pope.
Blanchard might also figure in the closer’s role. Consiglio likes the senior’s moxie, although noting that his play at shortstop in the late innings would be missed if he assumes the role of saves leader for the Kits.
“Blanchard is such a gamer and I think he has the ability to be a quality pitcher because of the way he always competes out there,” the coach praised. “He only pitched a little for us in the summer, but now he’s bigger and stronger and he’s really dedicated himself to being better at everything he does.
“In the spring it’s becoming more and more important to have that back-end guy because you might play 5 or 6 games a week. When you have that guy, you know that generally you have someone who’s going to throw strikes and shorten up the game for your starters. That’s really a key in high school baseball. I think Jack has the mentality to fill that role for us.
“The thing I’m most impressed about so far is the leadership on this team. If we keep getting that kind of leadership, our lows during the season won’t be that low. From the top down, a lot of them have improved a lot since last year. Now we just have to keep improving.”