Frank Consiglio couldn’t remember the last time he had to make so many strategic moves as a high school baseball coach.
And in the midst of all of those moves, the Evanston coach — with a little help from one of his players — made the right call with the Wildkit winning streak on the line Saturday at Deerfield.
Consiglio’s call for a 5-man infield with the winning run on third base and one out in the bottom of the 7th inning — and a complementary suggestion from senior second baseman Mark Roth — helped the Wildkits preserve a tie.
Evanston eventually pushed across four unearned runs in the 9th inning, without a single hit in the frame, and ran its winning streak to 13 with a 10-6 Central Suburban League triumph over the Warriors. Now 23-5-1, the Wildkits are just two wins away from matching the school record for victories in a single season set in 1981.
With runners on second and third and the tying run already across in the 7th, Consiglio decided to pull left fielder Gill Hurtig in to try to deny the Warriors the game-winning run.
Hurtig, who has come through the program mostly as an infielder before earning the starting left field job six weeks ago, moved to the left side of the infield until reliever Russell Snapp got two strikes on Deerfield’s Leigh Rubin.
Then, at Roth’s suggestion, Hurtig shifted to the right side and Roth put himself in position to make a game-saving play. He did just that, diving to his left to grab Rubin’s one-hop smash and throw him out without the run scoring. Snapp closed the door next when cleanup hitter Josh Mendelson lined to center for the final out.
“At first when they were waving me in, I didn’t know where to go. I thought they just wanted me to come in a couple of steps, not play the infield,” Hurtig said. “And then I was so glad when they moved me over to the right side, because Mark was able to make a tremendous play.”
Hurtig also ignited the game-winning rally with a four-pitch walk leading off the 9th. Bases-loaded sacrifice flies hit by Justin Farrow and Charlie Maxwell put the visitors ahead to stay, and two more runs crossed on an errant pickoff throw from Deerfield reliever Ryan Pfutzenreuter, the fourth pitcher used by the Warriors.
Evanston also used four pitchers and winning pitcher James Allen (6-2) actually entered the game twice in relief before the victory was secured. Between them, relievers Snapp, Allen and Maxwell only allowed one unearned run on one hit over the last five innings.
“We’ve used that 5-man infield here and there, but I can’t remember the last time we had success with it,” Consiglio admitted. “In that situation we were up against a kid (Rubin) who was hitting a lot of ground balls. Then Roth looked at the swings he was taking and wanted to shift about 5 feet to his right. He made the call, and every inch mattered on that play. He just looked in at me and I said go ahead, make the switch. That was an awesome play on his part.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever had to make that many moves, that many decisions in any game since I’ve been coaching. I’ve never re-entered a pitcher like that before, either. I thought that was one of the better games we’ve had as a coaching staff. We were really dialed in today as a team.”
Liberman’s grand-slam home run in the first inning shoved the Kits into a 4-0 hole right from the start, and they still trailed 4-1 when starting pitcher Drew Martinson surrendered a solo homer to Eric Schmidt leading off the 4th.
The visitors chipped away after that, scoring three runs in the 5th and two more in the 6th. Justin Farrow doubled home a run and also stole home in the 5th to pull ETHS to within 5-4, and the Wildkits grabbed the lead in the 6th as Ben Drake squeezed home a run and pinch-runner Ben Osterlund scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch by Deerfield’s Zach Feldman.
Deerfield drew even in the 7th against Snapp on a swinging bunt, an error on an attempted sacrifice and a one-out single by Mike Kollada. But that turned out to be the Warriors’ last gasp.
Allen, who started the game for ETHS at first base, pitched a scoreless inning of relief and only required six pitches to record three outs in the 5th. He came on again with runners on first and third and two outs and snuffed out the threat as pinch-hitter Sam Fradin grounded harmlessly to first, then retired the side in order in the Deerfield 9th.
“No doubt we bent a little today, but we didn’t break,” Consiglio pointed out. “James Allen was really big for us today and I think you’re going to see him pitching his best baseball for us over the next three weeks.
“This is an experienced team that doesn’t panic and we win just about every way possible. The key is that if you’re going to beat us, you have to come out and beat us. If you’re not strong enough to put us away, you’re not going to beat us because we don’t give games away.”