By Dennis Mahoney
The hurt from this loss will linger for awhile.
Four outs away from a trip to the Final Four, Evanston’s baseball team fell victim to a South Elgin rally in the bottom of the sixth inning and dropped a 7-6 decision at the Class 4A Schaumburg Supersectional Monday night.
The resilient Storm answered a four-run Evanston rally in the top of the sixth with four runs of their own and advanced to the Illinois High School Association state finals in Joliet with a record of 24-10-2. Evanston exited with a final mark of 23-14-1 and matched the deepest postseason run in program history, equalling the Elite Eight efforts of both the 1992 and 2003 squads.
“We left too many pitches out over the plate in that last inning,” said ETHS coach Frank Consiglio. “We were comfortable with that 6-3 lead, and they came right back and put up 4 runs on us. You don’t see a team do that very often. You’ve got to give them credit. I just wish we could have finished this off.
“What did I tell the kids? I told them thank you. Sometimes when you’re in the moment, it’s hard to understand that you’ll look back on what a ride it was that you took yourselves, your community and your friends on. It was a tremendous ride.”
Two-out run-scoring singles by South Elgin’s Kyle Hays and Dane Toppel against Evanston reliever James Allen did the damage after Allen replaced starting pitcher Dylan Mulvihill in the sixth. Allen, who hadn’t pitched competitively in the past two weeks, had been a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities this season.
The Wildkits did mount a threat in their half of the seventh when Jackson Mihevc (2-for-3, run scored) and Michael Pope drew walks sandwiched around a pair of strikeouts. But Storm reliever Tyler Brown retired Mackenzie O’Neil on a tricky two-hop grounder to first base to end Evanston’s season.
O’Neil and fellow senior Joe Franke had played key roles as Evanston seized the lead in the sixth after falling behind 3-0 in the first two innings. South Elgin only hit one ball out of the infield in the first three stanzas against Mulvihill, scoring twice on infield outs and once on a squeeze bunt.
Evanston finally broke through against South Elgin’s much ballyhooed starting pitcher, hard-throwing righty Ryan Nutof. He entered the game with an 8-0 record, but a walk to Marty Fenn, a single by Sam Evans and a single by Mihevc loaded the bases with one out in the fourth.
Nutof zipped a called third strike past designated hitter Allen for the second out. But the speedy Pope beat out a swinging bunt, and another run crossed when Storm catcher Nate Brummel threw the ball away at first base.
In the ETHS sixth, an error opened the gates for what looked like the winning rally for Evanston. Fenn was thrown out at third base after reaching on the miscue, but singles by Mihevc, pinch-hitter Franke and O’Neil combined with a double by Charlie Maxwell to keep the rally going. The last run crossed when Eli Otting was grazed by a Brown pitch with the bases loaded.
Even though Evanston’s team batting average slipped about 20 points over the past month of the season, the Kits’ tendency to come through with clutch two-out hit after clutch two-out hit allowed them to thrive in the post-season.
Franke lined a single off the first baseman’s glove for perhaps the biggest hit of his career, a blow that tied the game. O’Neil, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, stroked a single through the right side of the infield for the go-ahead run.
Franke, a senior who was a starter at designated hitter over the first six weeks of the season, was relegated to the bench after that but proved himself as a clutch player with timely hits against both New Trier and Deerfield coming off the bench during the regular season.
The senior was proud of his contribution in defeat --- justifiably so.
“At first it was hard to get used to, being out of the lineup,” Franke said. “But now I’m always ready if there’s an RBI situation. Coach wants to use me when he really needs me the most. (Against Nutof) I just told myself I’m better than him, he’s not going to beat me. But I thought the first baseman would catch it. When he didn’t, I just yelled oh, yeah!
“Everyone was really locked in for us. We hit like I’ve never seen us hit before.”
“I trust Joe with two outs more than anyone else on our team because of his short approach (swing),” Consiglio pointed out. “Against a guy who throws hard like that, he’s the perfect guy to send up there. That was one big hit. We thought it was the game-winner.”
Evanston belted eight hits against Nutof and treated him like just another pitcher, according to Consiglio.
“He’s a good player, but we just isolated on his fastball. We were ready for that, and he didn’t show us anything we haven’t seen from some of the pitchers in our conference,” said the ETHS coach. “And I thought Dylan (Mulvihill) did a good job for us. He came out of the game with a lead, and generally when that happens, we close it out and get the job done.
“But tonight we didn’t.”