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When he was younger and an up-and-coming baseball player, Alex Vasquez was one of those stud players who pitched and played shortstop and enjoyed plenty of success at both positions.

That changed once he got to the high school ranks and became strictly a position player. But the Evanston senior still remembers how to get batters out.

He proved that Monday as the Wildkits won their much-delayed home opener, earning his first varsity save while striking out six of the 10 batters he faced in a 7-5 conquest of Lincoln Park. Evanston chalked up its fifth win in a row and improved to 8-2 on the season.

Vasquez’s  mound debut – he has pitched a couple of innings for the summer team since joining the ETHS varsity – might not be his last appearance, although head coach Frank Consiglio is still trying to sort out roles for a deep pitching staff and is reluctant to sacrifice the play of his all-conference shortstop and replace him in the infield in the late stages of big games.

On the plus side, a hurler with a fastball that was almost unhittable Monday looks like a capable closer.

“One of the things we wanted to find out today was just how dominant Alex could be. When you have that [pitcher-shortstop] combination, he has to be dominant as a pitcher, not just good, because then you lose him at shortstop,” Consiglio explained.

“We’re still probably not going to have a shortstop as a closer. But every single thing we’ve seen from him in practice – that he has two pitches, that he’s a plus run control guy, and the way he attacks hitters, and the way he’s such a competitor – I know he’ll always be there if we need a shutdown inning. We absolutely think that he could be one of the top three or four pitchers on this team if that’s all he did.”

Vasquez didn’t exactly expect to be called to the mound in a non-conference game where the opportunities were there for some members of the pitching staff who haven’t seen much action to date.

But he got the call after Arthur Harvey, the third Evanston pitcher on the day, yielded a grand slam home run to Lincoln Park’s Damon Sandoval in the fifth inning. Sandoval’s blow pulled the visitors, who trailed 7-0 at one point, to within 7-5.

Vasquez tamed the Lions after that. He permitted just two baserunners, on a walk and an error, and at one point struck out five of six to earn the save.

“We had some guys throwing in the bullpen, so I definitely was not expecting to go in,” Vasquez said. “But once I got called in I just tried to throw as many strikes as I could. I think I threw maybe two off-speed pitches. They’re not the best hitting team, so it wasn’t necessary to throw any more.

“I pitched a lot in elementary and middle school but it was pretty much cut off after that, except for a couple of innings in the summer. But I have been throwing some bullpens in the off-season because I wanted to get back into it. I thought it would be good if I was a guy who was reliable enough to throw strikes and help us win.

“There were a lot of fans here today and you don’t usually see that much in high school baseball. Some of my friends were here to watch and it was super nice to pitch in front of them and be in control of the game. I wouldn’t mind doing that again.”

Vasquez wasn’t the only pitcher wearing orange and blue to excel in the home opener. Senior southpaw Clive Harvey tossed three scoreless innings and struck out five as the starter and allowed only one hit. He picked up the victory when the Wildkits pushed across five runs with two outs in the  second. The hosts capitalized on five consecutive walks, an error and a two-run single by Vasquez.

Sophomore Eron Vega added a solo home run, the first of his career, over the Blue Monster wall in left, in the third.

“I thought Clive looked very sharp,” said Consiglio. “We’ve talked to him a lot about his rhythm and his pace on the mound and I thought he did well with the opportunity he got today. We need games like this to see how guys will compete.” The Wildkits return to the road on Tuesday for a Central Suburban League crossover contest at Highland Park.     

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