• Who: Hartland vs. Brighton baseball doubleheader
• When: 4 p.m.
• Where: Brighton High School;
• Broadcast: On The Livingston Post, starting at 3:45 p.m.
• Weather: Sunny and 77 degrees, with winds from the south at 15 mph
• Last year: Hartland won 1-0 (18 innings) and 6-0 (two days later)
Hartland leads the KLAA West by a half-game with a 6-1 record; Brighton is 6-2. “We’re playing a really good team,” Hartland coach Brian Morrison said. “We’ll have to play well to have a chance to beat them.” Brighton coach Charlie Christner is as eager to stay off bulletin boards as Morrison. “The scores would indicate they play good defense and pitch well,” he said. “It’s a team we’ll have to play well against.”
The first games of KLAA West doubleheaders almost always feature each team’s ace. Hartland’s Max Hendricks, a junior, has been unhittable this season. He’s allowed just three hits in 21 innings, and none in his last 11. That number includes three innings against Milford last Wednesday (in a game completed Friday), a one-inning save in the second game Friday and a seven-inning gem against Canton on Saturday. “He always has a good mound presence,” Morrison said. “He throws strikes and gives you a chance to win. He’s throwing a little firmer this season, and that’s a credit to what he’s done in the offseason.
For Brighton, it’s another junior, lefty Cameron Tullar, who struck out 11 against Howell on Friday and has a 0.86 ERA, allowing two runs in 16 1/3 innings. “He’s starting to roll into form,” Christner said. Both are tough at the plate, too; Hendricks is batting .510 in the leadoff spot and leading Hartland in most offensive categories, while Tullar is at .303 with 16 RBIs this season.
Warm temperatures and a wind blowing out to left could turn the Brighton field into a launching pad. Or not. “Who knows?” Morrison asked. “Every time you think that might happen, it’s a 2-1 game.” Temperatures near 80 will be a welcome change from the raw conditions last Friday, when the temperature dipped to near 40 with winds at 20 mph. “Baseball,” Morrison said, “is not supposed to be played or coached in a winter coat.”
As in, both teams are hoping not to have any. Last year’s Wednesday doubleheader became an 18-inning marathon in the first game, one inning shy of the state record. It was played on an overcast day, and umpires informed the teams that the 18th would be the last inning of that day. The game ended when John Baker homered to lead off the bottom of the inning, the only run in a 1-0 Hartland victory. “That was crazy,” Morrison said. “I don’t think that will happen (today).”
The game marks the halfway point, or thereabouts, of the 2017 baseball season. “We’re still rounding into shape,” Morrison said. “It’s a work in progress. The kids work hard and they believe in what they’re doing. There’s a lot of competition for playing time and positions, and I think that’s a good thing.” As for Brighton, “we’ve played pretty good baseball in the last week. We’re swinging the ball a lot better and Tullar is starting to roll into form. Rudy (Ramirez) has done a good job. I think I like where we’re at and where we’re going.”