High school coaches across the State of Illinois have the same concerns as Evanston baseball coach Frank Consiglio at the conclusion of the most difficult year in sports that anyone can remember.
The lack of focus for teenage athletes is a problem every season for those who lead teams in spring sports, but the extension of the Illinois High School Association competition calendar deep into June this year due to the coronavirus pandemic has added another dimension to that dilemma.
As Coach Consiglio pointed out Tuesday, the Wildkits will play their first postseason game a whopping 20 days after the senior class has graduated. How do you maintain focus when most of your players are distracted, thinking about their college futures or summer jobs?
While Coach Consiglio fretted, Evanston responded by bashing 9 doubles and a triple – likely a school single game record for extra-base hits – and pounded Buffalo Grove 15-11 to conclude the regular season.
The visitors wiped out a 7-1 deficit by pummeling the Buffalo Grove bullpen after starter Kam Craft departed in the 4th inning. Jacob Lipman drove in 5 runs with a double and a triple, Evan Burns went 3-for-4 with 2 RBI, and freshman Eron Jesse Vega – who made his varsity debut at third base – was one of six Wildkits to collect more than 1 hit. Evanston out-hit the hosts 16-10 and only two Bison hits went for extra bases.
Senior right-hander Izzy Flood, the fifth ETHS pitcher to see action on the day, retired 6 of the 7 batters he faced to earn a 2-inning save.
Evanston improved to 21-11-1 on the year, after losing to the Mid-Suburban League champs during Week 1 of the season, but Coach Consiglio wasn’t satisfied even though he quieted trash talk from a certain Buffalo Grove third baseman – Cole Consiglio, his oldest son – at the dinner table.
“I feel like we’re having a hard time regaining the focus we need. It feels like we have one [collective] foot in the summer already, that we’re all in summer mode,” Coach Consiglio said. “There’s just a different feel to the season this year. We’re into June now and it’s still the regular season.
“Usually the seniors graduate, and then go right into the [State] playoffs. This year we’ll be out of school 20 days in between graduation and our first playoff game. The one cool thing about end-of-the-season baseball is we were able to use our entire roster and play a lot of guys. Lipman had some big hits for us, and Flood did a real good job on the mound, too.
“We did put up some crooked numbers against a really good team. One positive I’ll take from this is that we were able to hit our way to the win. We trusted our approach and we didn’t get pull hungry. I think when the weather heats up, the hitters tend to get a little more aggressive. I just hope we save some of those doubles for playoff baseball.”
Buffalo Grove knocked out ETHS starter Hank Liss in the 2nd and his successors – Briggs Bossert, Andy Vye and Owen Brooks – each yielded at least 1 run before Flood slammed the door on the Bison in the last two frames.
Evanston poured across 8 runs in the top of the 4th to reclaim the lead at 9-7, but the hosts countered with a 4-run outburst of their own in the bottom half of the inning. Undeterred, the Wildkits responded with a 5-run splurge in the 5th. Peter Barbato came off the bench to deliver a ground-rule double to tie the score at 11-all, and Lipman’s fly ball to short left fell in for a 2-run double that provided the lead for good.
Earlier, Lipman walloped a bases-loaded triple as part of his best offensive outing in a Wildkit uniform. Doubles by Liss and Burns and a Buffalo Grove error tacked on an insurance run in the 6th.
Third baseman Vega earned a promotion to the varsity ranks for regional tournament play, which opens on Thursday when the Wildkits – seeded No. 3 in the sectional – host Whitney Young. Vega smacked a line drive single in his first varsity at-bat, lined out to center in the 4th, and was credited with an infield hit before being caught stealing in the 4th.