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Tuesday’s showdown between the Evanston and New Trier baseball teams had a little bit of everything.
If you’re a baseball purist, however, you might have cringed a bit while watching the Wildkits prevail 8-3 by rallying for six runs in the bottom of the 6th inning.
The two teams combined for seven errors, three wild pitches that scored runs, two balks, two hit batters and three runners thrown out at the plate before the Kits rallied late to down their arch-rivals.
New Trier head coach Mike Napoleon recently won his 900th career game, but the Trevians didn’t follow that winning formula on Tuesday. The visitors committed three errors in the 6th and Wildkit fans aren’t used to watching that many mistakes from a program that has won two state championships.
The two teams resume their Central Suburban League South division series on Wednesday at New Trier.
“That wasn’t winning ugly, it was losing ugly. New Trier is a well-coached team and you don’t see them make that many mistakes too often,” said Evanston head coach Frank Consiglio. “And when they made mistakes in that last inning, then they just compounded those mistakes.
“Even though we had some errors [four] we picked our spots and made some huge double plays. We got some ground balls in some big spots.”
Evanston, now 7-3-1 overall, achieved its fourth straight victory after trailing 3-2 in the sixth. The Wildkits – and the collapse of the New Trier defense – finally got to Trevian starting pitcher Dalton Hastings after the junior right-hander struck out nine Wildkits in the first five frames.
The biggest hit of the day was delivered by a guy who has spent the last three weeks dividing his time between football and baseball, sophomore Hank Liss. His line single to center plated teammate Evan Burns, who had worked Hastings for a leadoff walk, with the tying run. Liss eventually came around to score himself on a balk and a wild pitch.
Liss delivered on a 1-2 pitch and said juggling the two sports (he plays quarterback in what is normally the fall sport) actually helped him focus on a daily basis.
“I just started playing football as a freshman and I really love it,” he said. “It wasn’t easy playing both at the same time. Mostly it was games ahead of practices [as a priority] the last couple of weeks. I just wanted to do as much as I can to help my teammates and my coaches, and to follow in the footsteps of [former MLB and NFL player] Bo Jackson.
“Mentally, I’ve had to be more focused in both sports. I practiced my swings a lot in the backyard with my brother [senior pitcher Joe Liss] and we really push each other and help each other.
“When one wrong thing happens, it can turn the energy on, and for New Trier to make that many mistakes, we were lucky. In that spot (in the 6th inning) I just tried to calm myself down. I like those spots – a lot. I’ve tried to prepare myself and to be as confident as I can be.”
Coach Consiglio pointed out that the younger Liss’ approach at the plate made a difference in a critical situation.
“Their first pitcher had such good velocity, but I thought we did a good job of adjusting and getting to our ‘B’ swings,” said the ETHS mentor. “Hank went to his shorter swing and just flipped the ball into center field. He got the job done, and he did a good job.”
Tuesday might have also been a breakthrough day for older brother Joe Liss. He drew the starting nod on the mound, and despite not getting the decision, showed why he’s nicknamed “Bulldog” by battling to keep the Wildkits in the game even when he was being out-pitched.
RBI doubles by A.J. Steinbeck and Ryan Kaestle powered New Trier to a three-run uprising in the second inning, but the visitors never scored again. Joe Liss held the Trevians, now 4-5 on the year, scoreless until the 6th. Reliever Briggs Bossert retired six of the eight batters he faced to pick up the win.
“I’ve been waiting to see a game where Joe gave up some early runs and then had the mentality of an ace and held the other team down so we can work on coming back,” Coach Consiglio said. “It was awesome to see the way Joe shut them down after they scored. “
Evanston scored an unearned run in the second when Ben Gutowski singled and raced all the way to third on an outfield error. He scored on a wild pitch.
In the Evanston third, Brandon Brokowski smacked a leadoff single through the New Trier shortstop. After a one-out infield single by Dylan Elwood, pinch-runner Fred Eberhart crossed on a balk and another wild heave by Hastings.