Twenty-win seasons have pretty much become the norm for the Evanston baseball program since Frank Consiglio took over as head coach in 2008.
So what does it take for the veteran head coach to get excited about reaching that plateau again? When the players themselves take notice of that victory standard.
That’s what happened Saturday afternoon as the Wildkits ended a four-game losing streak by sweeping a doubleheader from Highland Park by scores of 9-4 and 7-6 on a windswept day at ETHS.
The sweep on Senior Day boosted the Kits to their 20th win against 11 losses and 1 tie so far this spring. Evanston capitalized on seven errors by the Giants in the opener, and five ETHS pitchers – including Joe Liss, who notched his first save of the season – hurled a combined five-hitter in the nightcap.
Evanston has one more regular season contest remaining, on Tuesday at Buffalo Grove, and will begin Class 3A State tournament play at home on Thursday against Whitney Young in the regional opener.
This marks the 8th time in 13 seasons that Coach Consiglio has guided the Kits to at least 20 victories, and in two other years, they notched 19 wins. Want some perspective? In the history of the program prior to his arrival, ETHS only won 20 games a total of four times.
“To me, 20 wins is the barometer of a good season,” the Coach said. “But the exciting thing for me was the way the kids brought it up in our [postgame] huddle. This is one of the first years I can remember the kids being so proud of that.
“Our conference is one of the best in the state – it’s a beast – so it’s not like you can count on winning 10 games just in your league. I think it’s a bigger challenge to win 20 than ever just because of how tough our league is. It’s very significant to get to 20 wins because it validates your season.
“We were sitting on a season where we only won 14 [in 2019] and then the pandemic hit us. But these seniors found a way to figure some things out, and they’ve had some really big wins over the course of this season.”
Play wasn’t exactly crisp on either side Saturday, as a constant 20-mile-per-hour wind howling out to right field made every popup and fly ball into an adventure for the defense. Highland Park was charged with a total of nine errors in the two games, and while the Wildkits were tagged with just four, that didn’t count a handful of balls hit in the air that fell safely against some bewildered defenders.
Two misplayed popups by the hosts enabled the Giants to creep back to 7-6 in the top of the 6th inning in Game two, before Liss came on to put out the fire in the 7th. The senior right-hander hit a pair of batters with one out, then reached back to fan Sam Van Cleve on three pitches and retired Gabe Spitz on a grounder to short to end the game.
That wasn’t exactly the kind of tuneup Consiglio was hoping for with the postseason so near.
“We did a lot of good things today,” the Coach said, “but I am disappointed because we didn’t put Highland Park away when we had them down. When you have a team beat, that’s when you have to bury them. If you let a team stay around against you in the [State] playoffs, that will hurt you.
“I preach so much about the playoffs to them all year that I’ve noticed that once the seeds [for the sectional tournament] are out, it’s a tougher challenge for them to get focused for the games that are left. We hit a low point in the last couple of games [losses to Deerfield and Glenbrook North] and we had to get our focus back to just winning innings – the small picture, not the big picture. That’s an adjustment I’m going to have to make in the future.”
In Game 1, senior Danny Sheikh struck out eight in his five-inning mound stint, with Andrew Vye and Owen Brooks both contributing a scoreless inning of relief. Dylan Elwood went 2-for-4 with four runs-batted-in and Alex Vasquez drove in three runs with a single, triple, and sacrifice fly.
The two squads were locked in a 4-4 tie when Evan Burns walked and reached second when a Giants’ infielder dropped a throw on his stolen base attempt. With two outs, Vasquez hammered a three-bagger over the center fielder’s head for the go-ahead run.
The Wildkits tacked on four more runs, with just two hits, in the 6th as Highland Park reliever Nik Diez helped the hosts with a pair of run-producing wild pitches.
Elwood hit a two-run double in the second with Evanston already leading 4-1 and that was enough to assure a win for starter Briggs Bossert. Bossert threw three innings without allowing an earned run, and was followed to the mound by Karlo Papa, Matthew Prah, Izzy Flood, and Liss. Two of the four runs charged to the bullpen were unearned.