Kits can't come back from early deficit, bow 7-6
Season-ending losses are never easy to take.
Especially when the season comes down to a few inches, a few bounces here and there.
No follower of the Evanston baseball team could claim that the Wildkits didn’t have some luck on their side during the 2021 season. But the Kits couldn’t find any good fortune Wednesday in a 7-6 Class 4A sectional semifinal tournament loss to Oak Park-River Forest.
ETHS stranded 10 baserunners in the postseason showdown played at Triton College, and couldn’t catch the No. 2 seeded Huskies after falling behind 4-1 in the first inning. Evanston was ousted from postseason play with a final record of 23-12-1, while OPRF advanced to the championship contest on Friday with a 17-7 mark.
The lack of a clutch hit cost the Kits in the early stages of their comeback attempt. But what really broke Evanston’s hearts was a sixth inning rally that produced one run after promising much more.
For some reason, with the bases loaded and 1 out and a run already across for the visiting Wildkits, OPRF third baseman Miles Kirk moved from deep at his position to even with the bag before pitcher Cole Shamhart delivered an 0-2 pitch to Evanston’s Luke Teeter.
Teeter ripped a line drive down the third base line, which Kirk snared. The blast led him right to the bag for an inning-ending double play as he victimized ETHS pinch-runner Owen Brooks for the last out.
Evanston went down in order in the 7th as Shamhart struck out the side.
“I just hate to lose the way we did today,” said Evanston head coach Frank Consiglio. “That was the hardest hit ball for us all day --- Luke really stung it --- and it didn’t get through. I don’t know why that kid moved in like that. If he doesn’t, it probably clears the bases and we take the lead. It’s a tough way to end your season.
“I’ve had teams in the past that have won regional championships, and I knew that was probably as good as it was going to get. Not with this team. We had the horses to go a lot deeper if a few bounces went our way. But we left too many runners on base.
“We didn’t fold after we got down early. They fought back, just like they did all season. I’ve gotta love the effort and the way they battled and battled just to put us in position to try to win. I’m so proud of our guys. We just didn’t get the hit we needed.”
The Kits faced adversity right from the start when pitcher Danny Sheikh, an all-conference selection this year along with teammates Alex Vasquez and Hank Liss, had to depart after facing just 3 batters. Sheikh apparently pulled a muscle in his back while warming up in the bullpen, and losing the No. 2 starter on the squad put Evanston at an immediate disadvantage.
Sheikh yielded a leadoff double to Jared Cortez and walked the next 2 hitters before Consiglio had to summon emergency help from the bullpen. Reliever Briggs Bossert surrendered a run on a sacrifice fly, another on a passed ball, and a couple more on a 2-out single by Shamhart (2-for-3, 3 RBI) before the damage was done.
“I found out about Danny literally while we were lined up for the national anthem,” said Consiglio. “He tried to pitch through it, but he just couldn’t. I’ve never been in a situation like that before. We got in a bad spot and never completely grabbed the momentum after that.”
Vasquez, the senior standout, helped keep the Kits close. He went 3-for-3 with a walk, stole a base and scored 3 runs in the comeback bid.
His leadoff single in the third helped spell the end for OPRF’s hard-throwing right-hander, Aidan Krupp. The Notre Dame recruit walked Teeter with the bases loaded (following a walk and an error), and with 2 outs he issued another free pass to Peter Barbato to force across another run. He was yanked in favor of lefty Neil Dombrowski, who retired Evan Burns on an infield grounder to end the rally.
Bossert balked a run home in the OPRF 3rd and the third Wildkit hurler, Joe Liss, allowed an unearned run in the 5th that turned out to be the game-winning run as the losers committed 3 errors in that frame. The Huskies finished with 7 hits to Evanston’s 6.
ETHS couldn’t convert on a golden opportunity in the fourth, although they did push across 2 more runs. Dylan Elwood drew a leadoff walk, Vaszquez singled to right center, and one out later Hank Liss walked to fill the bases.
Older brother Joe Liss bounced a grounder up the middle that took a hop on the artificial turf, and the Huskies were able to limit it to a run-producing forceout instead of a 2-run single. Teeter then took a called third strike for the last out.
“Overall, I thought it was a very sloppy game,” Consiglio said. “When you don’t get consistent strikes on the mound (from either pitching staff), it tends to get sloppy on defense, too. Those two things are always connected.”