With a pair of pitching aces held in reserve, Evanston baseball coach Frank Consiglio was still convinced that where there’s a Will, there’s a way — to win.
Make that a couple of Wills. With senior Will Lucas contributing three scoreless innings and senior Will Peterson extending that shutout streak for two more frames, the Wildkits defeated Niles North 9-4 Wednesday at the Class 4A Evanston Regional tournament.
Consiglio’s decision not to go with either one of his aces — Henry Haack and Joe Epler — was a calculated risk, although Epler has been dealing with an arm injury that helped the veteran coach make up his mind to start Lucas.
It’s a formula that doesn’t usually lead to postseason success, when you don’t open with your best pitcher, but the Kits made it work and will face either Niles West or Fenwick in Saturday’s championship game at 11 a.m. at ETHS.
Lucas struck out 6 of the 12 batters he faced, Peterson faced the minimum number of hitters in his 2-inning stint, and closer Jay Moore tossed a scoreless sixth. Haack, who hadn’t pitched in a game in a week, got some work in the seventh and surrendered four unearned runs after a two-out error.
“If Epler was 100 percent, he would have started, but we decided to give him a couple more days off,” Consiglio explained after his team improved to 21-9-1 on the season. The Wildkits are seeded No. 3 in the Loyola Academy Sectional complex.
“I had complete faith in Will Lucas and the other pitchers today. No matter who you play in the first round of the regional, you have to stay with your plan, but we were forced to go a different way. But I didn’t lose any sleep over it because I knew Lucas would do a good job. I had faith in all of them, that they’d put up zeroes and let our hitters go to work.
“We’ve used Lucas and Peterson in the same game a lot this year, partly because Lucas tends to go deep in a lot of counts (building a higher pitch count). Peterson could probably be a starter on most teams and I know I can always get 2-plus innings from him whenever I need them. He gives us a lot of value that way.”
Lucas (5-3) and Peterson had a worthy mound foe in Niles North righty Charlie O’Kane for the first three innings, but the Wildkits pushed across 3 runs in the bottom of the fourth and tacked on four more runs while chasing O’Kane in the fifth.
Niles North finished 3-23 on the season and only mustered three singles before stringing together four straight hits versus Haack after that two-out error kept the seventh inning alive for the Vikings.
Matt Barbato crushed an RBI double off the left center field wall to score teammate Harry Porter with the first run of the contest for the winners. In the fourth, Porter drew a 2-out walk, Barbato also walked and Chris Wolfe ripped a run-scoring single to left. Wolfe also stole home later in the frame on the front end of Evanston’s favorite delayed steal gambit to build the lead to 4-0.
A walk to leadoff hitter Jake Snider and Fletcher Brown’s bunt single lit the fuse for a big ETHS inning in the fifth. Adam Geibel and Noah Leib both followed with run-scoring singles, another run crossed on an infield out, and Porter’s bad-hop single produced still another run as the Wildkits sent 10 batters to the plate before the side was retired.
Epler, the designated hitter on Wednesday, contributed an RBI single in the Evanston sixth.