Next to the word “unflappable” in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Russel Snapp.
Pitching in the biggest game of his high school career to date, the Evanston junior never lost his cool Saturday afternoon.
Snapp’s performance under pressure on the mound lifted the No. 4 seeded Wildkits to a 2-1 victory over the host team in the championship game of the Class 4A Notre Dame Regional tournament.
The right-hander pitched out of jams in the first and sixth innings and tossed a 5-hitter overall. His wicked slider induced 15 ground ball outs and helped deliver Evanston’s first regional crown since 2005 and sent the Wildkits (21-13-1) to Wednesday’s sectional semifinal at Loyola Academy. Their opponent will be Central Suburban League South division rival Maine South, which eliminated Maine West 2-0.
After a rocky start Saturday --- the first two batters reached safely for the Dons --- Snapp settled in to record his 8th victory of the season against 3 defeats. He struck out 2, walked 1 and hit 2 batters in a distance performance. It was his second win over No. 5 seed Notre Dame (20-15-1) this spring.
Snapp continued to show a maturity on the mound beyond his years. While establishing himself as Evanston’s ace in his first varsity season, the junior has been especially effective limiting the damage when opposing teams threaten to build big innings against him.
Not much gets under the junior’s skin.
“I’m pretty easy going, I guess,” Snapp said. “Sometimes really annoying cheers, like in the Maine South game, gets into my head a little bit. But I don’t show it when it does. I don’t usually show my emotions on the mound.
“To be honest, I was nervous in the first inning. Usually the first inning is tough for me, because you’re not in a groove yet. But I was able to find that groove pretty quickly and settle in. It feels amazing to win the regional! My slider was really working today and that’s what made their hitters roll over so much. We really played well as a team today. Our defenders were very, very supportive and that was great to have behind me.”
“I firmly believe we won that game in the first inning when Russel got them out without scoring,” said ETHS head coach Frank Consiglio. “Getting past that first inning was the key for him. Sometimes he’s uncomfortable out there at the start of a game, but he doesn’t get rattled no matter what happens. And his stuff is built to get out of situations like that. We have a very good infield behind him, and when you get that many ground balls, you’ll get yourself out of situations.”
Evanston’s defense was flawless behind Snapp, who actually committed the lone Kit error with an errant pickoff throw in the fourth inning. Second baseman Marty Fenn was credited with 5 assists and shortstop Jack Blanchard added 4 assists and 1 putout for the winners.
On offense, the Kits utilized clutch two-out RBI hits by designated hitter James Allen in the fourth and Fenn in the fifth as the key blows among their 6 hits.
Snapp’s great escape in the first inning came after Thomas Norton singled and Vince Surdo was hit by a pitch. A strikeout and an infield out helped Snapp regroup, but Mike Ferri walked on a 3-2 count to fill the bases as the large home crowd smelled blood in the water.
Instead, Snapp forced Matt Segovia to bounce out to third baseman Charlie Maxwell to kill the budding rally. Snapp then retired 13 of the next 15 batters he faced before trouble brewed again in the fifth with one out.
This time, the ETHS righty didn’t escape unscathed. Singles by Sam Ferri, Segovia and Joe Rimac cut the lead in half, as Rimac lined a two-out 3-2 pitch to right center for Notre Dame’s RBI.
With the tying run on third, Tom Simon rapped a two-hopper to shortstop Blanchard for the final out. The Dons then went down 1-2-3 in the seventh.
Evanston stroked 6 hits against 3 Notre Dame pitchers and pinned the loss on starter Scott Kutschke, a sophomore left-hander. Fenn played a role in both scoring innings, drawing a one-out walk in the fourth and coming around to score on singles by Sam Evans and Allen.
In the fifth, Maxwell singled and took second on a wild pitch with one out. After Blanchard grounded out and Eli Otting was issued an intentional walk, Fenn chopped a grounder down the third base line and legged out an infield hit as Maxwell crossed with what turned out to be the winning run.
“This feels awesome!” Consiglio exclaimed. “That should have been our regional last year. Today we played like a team that’s SUPPOSED to win. We played like a championship team against a good team.”