Even though the temperature crept close to 50 degrees for Evanston’s baseball opener Monday at Northwestern University’s Rocky Miller Park, cold weather baseball was the order of the day.
That kind of baseball has been the blueprint for ETHS’ success under head coach Frank Consiglio since he took over the program. But the Wildkits came up short in their 2023 debut and dropped a 6-4 decision to Hersey.
The Kits’ offensive ratio of 10 strikeouts to just five hits, plus the fact that the Huskies recorded a staggering eight hits with two-strike counts against them, added up to an Evanston loss.
“We struck out too many times and didn’t put the ball in play enough,” Consiglio said. “We didn’t play cold weather baseball. As soon as you don’t put the ball in play and the other team does, you’re at a disadvantage right away. It’s a challenge to try to win when you don’t make the [opposing] fielders field.
“Hersey did a better job making contact and they had the best at-bats with runners in scoring position. If you’re not good with two strikes you’re in trouble, especially in this kind of weather.”
Hersey relief pitcher Matt Lemke mowed the Wildkits down after taking over in the third inning, leading 4-3. He only permitted two base runners until the seventh, when Evanston staged a brief rally as Sam Sheikh socked a one-out double and came around to score on a two-out single by Eron Vega.
Lemke then retired Brandon Brokowski on a fly ball to left field to end the game.
Most of those two-strike hits by the winners created a lot of traffic against four Evanston pitchers who followed starter Hank Liss to the mound. The ETHS ace struck out five in his scoreless two-inning stint, and he was followed in order by Jared Lortie, Henry Rouch, Alex Vandurmen and Mason Denlow with mixed results.
Lortie surrendered four unearned runs in the third inning and Denlow, expected to handle the closer duties for the Wildkits this spring, yielded a couple more “add on” runs in the seventh to make a potential comeback more difficult for the offense.
Evanston’s first four hitters of the game all reached base and Hersey starter Jeremy Allen, a junior, walked cleanup hitter Brokowski on five pitches to force home the first run of the contest. But the right-hander reached back to fan the next three hitters to limit the damage.
Charlie Kalil’s two-out double plated Addison Blough in the second, and he came around to score himself on a passed ball and a balk to make it 3-0 in Evanston’s favor.
That’s when the defense rested. Throwing errors by third baseman Vega and shortstop Kalil spoiled Lortie’s season debut as Hersey answered with a four-run third, sending eight hitters to the plate before he finally put out the fire.
Hersey didn’t score again until the seventh, when Brandon Pflomm walked to lead off the frame against Denlow. Denlow appeared to have the next batter struck out, but didn’t get the call from the home plate umpire on a 1-2 pitch and David Denton delivered a ground rule double to left on the next pitch.
One out later, Hersey designated hitter Keegan Luxem lined a two-run single to right to provide some insurance.
“I thought Vandurmen [scoreless sixth] stood out more than the others,” added Consiglio. “We couldn’t get the other guys to pound the strike zone, though. We have to get better, and we’ll get there.”
The Wildkits will host Walter Payton Prep Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. at NU.