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The worst slider Hank Liss threw all day still wound up as a strike.
That’s the kind of day it was for the Evanston pitcher in a 2-0 blanking of Glenbrook South.
Liss hurled a 3-hit shutout – his second shutout of the spring – and struck out 11 while dominating the Titans and leading the Wildkits to their 13th victory in 16 outings. He also drove in a run with an infield single and stole a base.
The junior right-hander utilized a wipeout slider that he started to develop this past summer in a matchup that almost wasn’t fair to the visiting GBS hitters. He already has a fastball that touches the upper 80 miles per hours most of the time and was close to unhittable Tuesday against a program that is always in contention for the Central Suburban League South division championship.
The two squads will meet again Thursday at GBS and the Titans won’t mind not seeing Liss on the mound for that rematch.
And that “worst” slider? It was an offering that broke around the head of South designated hitter Jackson Hill in the fifth inning – and glanced off his bat for a foul ball. Hill eventually took a called third strike, one of four Titans caught looking by Liss.
“I got lucky with that one,” grinned Liss. “I thought it was a hit by pitch, and when I turned back around [on the mound] I saw it was a strike.
“I decided during the summer that I needed another pitch in my arsenal and that’s when I started working on it. I thought today was the right time to pull it out against a really good [opposing] squad. It comes out like a slider and moves like a curve, so I guess you could call it a slurve. I call it my slider. It really fools batters.
“I could tell it was working for me when I warmed up in the bullpen today. My plan of attack when I pitch is to pound the ball outside and then jam the hitters inside, but I’ll stick with whatever is working best for me. Today, it was the slider.”
ETHS head coach Frank Consiglio was more impressed by another set of pitches Liss turned to while subduing the Titans.
“I thought Hank went to another level today as a pitcher, because he added a change-up to their left-handed hitters in big spots,” said the veteran coach. “He got some strikeouts and some soft contact when he did that.
“Hank’s not afraid to get to a three-ball count – that’s a walk for most high school pitchers – and he’ll still come back and get an out. That’s what makes him special, that next-pitch mentality. He’s always attacking you fiercely and he has the exact mentality and makeup you want in a baseball player.
“If he keeps developing, I think he can be an impact player at the college level.”
Glenbrook South managed 3 hits – a single by Owen Weisensel, and a double and a single by Nic Swanson – plus a walk to James Hackett. The visitors kept things interesting by bunching Swanson’s single and Hackett’s walk in the top of the seventh inning against Liss.
The Wildkits only got a force out on a certain double play grounder to shortstop Alex Vasquez – the base umpire ruled against the hosts on a play after the turn that wasn’t really close at first – so Liss and catcher Brandon Brokowski took matters into their own hands with the game on the line.
Liss fired a fastball past Jack DiSano for strike three and Brokowski nailed Scott Newman at second on an attempted steal on the same pitch to end the game. Brokowski also threw out Weisensel on a steal attempt in the first inning.
Sam Sheikh’s leadoff single in the Evanston third led to the only run Liss really needed. With two outs, the junior standout helped his own cause with a chopper up the middle. The ball glanced off the glove of GBS shortstop Hackett as Sheikh sprinted home with the go-ahead run.
Evanston added an insurance run against losing pitcher Josh Moosey in the fourth inning. Vasquez doubled to right as Swanson came up just short on his diving attempt for the ball, and he came around to score after an error pushed him to third. The next ETHS hitter, Eron Vega, was credited with a sacrifice fly when Swanson made a spectacular grab in foul territory but couldn’t muster a throw to the plate.