Combined no-hitter sparks Wildkits to regional title
By the 5th inning of Monday’s regional championship baseball game at ETHS, Evanston head coach Frank Consiglio realized he was about to draw some boos from the biggest home crowd of the season.
Consiglio couldn’t help it. He removed starting pitcher Hank Liss, who was only one out away from completing a no-hit performance, and turned things over to reliever Briggs Bossert.
Bossert required just 3 pitches to finish the gem and the Wildkits earned their first regional crown since 2018, blanking Loyola Academy 11-0 in a slaughter rule win.
Liss was lifted with 72 pitches under his belt, just under the maximum of 75 according to the weekly pitch count mandates put in place by the Illinois High School Association a couple of years ago. Had he exceeded that total Monday, the sophomore right-hander wouldn’t have been eligible to pitch again until Saturday.
And Consiglio wants the opportunity to let his big dog bark again in a big-dog game like the sectional tournament championship game --- set for Friday.
The third-seeded Wildkits will play at No. 1 seed Oak Park-River Forest in Wednesday’s sectional semifinals for the right to advance to a possible game on Friday. OPRF eliminated Von Steuben 8-7 in the regional title game at Oak Park. Joining the Wildkits and Huskies as regional champs are No. 2 seed Lane Tech, which topped Niles West 5-0, and New Trier, a 7-3 winner over Maine South.
Liss struck out 5 and walked 2 in his first career no-hitter. He walked Brendan Cohn on a 3-2 pitch in the 3rd inning, and issued a 4-pitch free pass to losing pitcher Roger Simon in the 4th for account for Loyola’s only baserunners.
“I’m OK with the pitch counts (limits) during the season when you might have 4 or 5 games in a week, and you want to protect kids. But in the playoffs, I don’t like it,” Consiglio said. “There are too many good players you’d like to see just go for it in big moments.
“The way I framed it was, do you want to be dead (not eligible) for the rest of the week, and I think it was an easy decision for him --- and for me. ”
“What he said was do you want to finish this game, or do you want the chance to pitch again in a big-dog game,” Liss said. “He made the decision and you can’t argue with the coaches.
“That’s the first no-hitter I’ve ever pitched, but I don’t think about things like no-hitters when I’m out there (on the mound). I just try to dial it in and stay in the moment. It feels great to get this one, though.
“There’s a lot of bad blood with Loyola from the last time we played them, when there was a lot of chirping from their fans, a lot of them making fun of us and making comments about us. Now they can be salty going home on the bus.”
Evanston capitalized on the 8 walks and 1 hit batter chalked up by the Loyola pitching staff after starter Simon struck out 7 of the first 9 Wildkits he faced. After that it was all downhill for Simon and his successors, D.J. Morand and Sean Baum, as the Kits scored 6 of their runs on bases-loaded walks.
Liss has worked his way to the top of the ETHS pitching rotation and rose to the occasion in a matchup against the opposing team’s ace, a scenario that will likely play out a lot over the rest of his Wildkit career. “I know there’s a lot of pressure in a game like this, so I just wanted to come out and do my best,” he said. “And I go out there believing that I’m the best.
“I pounded my (mid-80s) fastballs on the outside corner, but the key pitch really was my slider. It broke over the outside part of the plate a lot, and they couldn’t touch it.”
The right-hander owes an assist to both Consiglio and first baseman Evan Burns, however, for preserving the no-hit bid.
On the 5th pitch of the contest, Consiglio yelled instructions for Burns to back up in the infield just before Rambler leadoff hitter Charley Radtke rapped a tricky two-hopper down the line that Burns smothered and converted into the first out of the game. Burns also robbed Mikey Regan of a hit in the 4th when he snared another grounder to the right side.
“I got a little lucky with that one, it came from the scouting report,” grinned Consiglio. “It doesn’t always work out like that.
“Today everything just went our way. This championship feels a little different because you usually have to fight more for a regional. My favorite thing about coaching is preparing kids for big moments like this. And the fan in me loves to see them compete in these big moments. There is no such thing as winning ‘just’ a regional championship, because this is a big hurdle to clear. When you get to the sectional semis, then anything can happen.”
The veteran coach also pointed out that Liss’ rise in his first year as a high school hurler hasn’t happened by accident.
“He’s had his ups and downs this season, but he’s learned to make adjustments,” Consiglio said. “That’s the sign of a good pitcher. He’s a really good practice player and he always gets his work in, trying to get better. He wants to get better, he wants to improve every day, and he’s a better pitcher this week than he was last week. He’s special.”
Liss finally got some offensive support after the hard-throwing Simon breezed through the Wildkit batting order the first time through. Only a 1-out single by Brandon Brokowski spoiled a perfect start in the 3rd, and courtesy runner Fred Eberhart strolled home when Simon issued consecutive 2-out walks to Burns, Dylan Elwood, Alex Vasquez and Bobby Black on the way to a 2-0 Evanston lead.
The Wildkits sent 13 hitters to the plate in the 4th , helped by an error on Brokowski’s attempted sacrifice bunt after Joe Liss singled and Luke Teeter was hit by a pitch to start the uprising. Black later slugged a bases-loaded double and Hank Liss helped himself with an RBI double before the carnage was over.
Evanston improved to 23-11-1 on the season while Loyola bowed out with a 15-15 record.