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Even a five-tool baseball player like Hank Liss can use a little help once in awhile.
With a little help from his friends – and the Evanston coaching staff – the junior standout regained his offensive focus and pounded out his first career home run as part of a 3-hit, 3-RBI performance Thursday in a 7-4 non-conference victory at Lake Forest.
The Wildkits improved to 6-2 on the season with another late rally. They scored three runs in the fifth inning and three more in the sixth before the contest was called due to darkness.
Liss, who batted .311 as a sophomore but only had three extra base hits in almost 100 varsity plate appearances, rapped a pair of doubles in Wednesday’s 5-1 win over Ridgewood, and continued that hot streak Thursday against the Scouts. He blasted a 2-2 pitch over the left center field fence to lead off the game, then added a run-scoring double in the fifth and an RBI single in the sixth for the winners.
Liss started the season with just one hit in his first nine trips to the plate and had no problem characterizing that slow start as a slump.
“I started out more focused on my pitching and I was in a slump, 100%, on offense,” admitted the ETHS junior. “But I started working more on my hitting in the cages and my teammates and my coaches helped me find my groove. Now, I’m back smashing the ball again.
“My focus just wasn’t on my approach before. I had a lot on my mind and there are a lot of things going on at school. The coaches and my teammates really helped me find my rhythm.”
Evanston head coach Frank Consiglio knew he’d get some offense from his best player – sooner, not later.
“No matter how you start the season, or how you end it, the back of your baseball card tells you who you are,” Consiglio said. “Hank is a five-tool ballplayer and I wasn’t concerned about him. He had to make some adjustments, and he worked hard and made those adjustments.”
Junior Jared Lortie earned the win on the mound, with relief help from Owen Brooks, after the right-hander and the Evanston Township High School staff finally got on the same page while falling behind 4-1 in the third. Consiglio changed the way catcher Brandon Brokowski was setting up pitches behind the plate and Lortie settled down after surrendering five hits to the Scouts and helping the hosts with a wild pickoff throw as well.
Lortie retired eight of the last nine hitters he faced and Brooks hurled a scoreless seventh inning for the winners.
“He did a good job of working the edges [of the plate] at the end,” Consiglio praised. “That’s on the coaching staff because we didn’t have them in the right position at first. We needed to do a better job of helping him out.”
Liss’ leadoff home run was the only hit allowed by Lake Forest lefty Tommie Aberle in the first 4 frames. But Eron Vega singled to start the ETHS fifth and Aberle issued walks to three of the next 4 hitters, and a couple of passed balls produced runs that helped Evanston cut the deficit to 4-3.
Liss greeted the next Scouts’ pitcher Josh Dueringer, with a sharp double to left to plate the tying run. The Wildkits left the bases loaded when Brokowski waved at a curve ball for the third strike.
But Evanston wasn’t going to be denied after that. In the sixth, Vega started the rally again with an infield hit and took second baser on a bad throw. After another error, the No. 9 hitter in the batting order, sophomore Charlie Kalil, ripped a two-run double off the fence in left and Liss added a clinching run with his third hit of the day.
Except for the Ridgewood contest, the Wildkits have trailed early in every win so far this spring and all of them have come on the road.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, or what inning it is, our mindset doesn’t change,” Liss pointed out. “We always find a spot in the game where we can get back at other teams. We’re not an easy team to beat.”