GRAND LEDGE — It all came down to one play for the Howell baseball team in Saturday’s Division 1 regional semifinal at Grand Ledge High School.
It came in the bottom of the sixth inning, with the score tied 1-1. With the bases loaded, Holt’s Robert Butterson hit a groundball that appeared to be headed for center field.
But Howell shortstop Johnny Shields ran down the ball, then dove for it, gloving the ball behind second base. He took a split second to pull the ball out of his mitt and throw to second baseman Caleb Balgaard, who caught it a split second after the runner on first, Logan VanEnKevort, slid into the bag.
Two runs scored, the difference in a 3-1 victory that propelled Holt into the regional championship game and ended the Highlanders’ season.
“This is a game of inches,” Howell co-coach Mike Weatherly said afterward. “Johnny made a heck of a play. We get that out and it’s 1-1 and we’re in a great spot. But take your hat off to Holt. Theuy did what they needed to do, and (Holt starter Jesse) Heikkinen did a great job. It was a great high school game. We just came up short in the end.”
Heikkinen, a senior lefty who is headed to Michigan State to play baseball, was adept at working out of jams while making the most of a little luck, too.
The first bit of fortune came in the first, when Brandon Leon, who led off after sitting out two weeks with a neck injury, tried to score on a double by Sam Weatherly. He ran through a stop sign by third-base coach Jason Ladd and was thrown out at the plate.
In the second inning, the Highlanders had runners on second and third when a failed bunt attempt led to an out that ended up stalling the rally, and in the fifth, Leon tried to score again on a single by Caleb Balgaard and was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
“I thought we put a lot of pressure on him,” Weatherly said. “We didn’t finish, that’s all. A guy like (Heikkinen), you have to take advantage of the opportunities, and we didn’t.”
Sam Weatherly, meanwhile, cruised through the first three innings, striking out the side in the third and seven overall, before allowing back-to-back singles in the fourth.
On the second hit, Holt’s Dalton Bahl, who had moved to second on a wild pitch, tried to score on a hard smash by Drake Soblesky that bounced off Howell third baseman Seamus Mitchell’s glove into left field.
But Garrett Breault fielded the ball cleanly and threw a strike to Mitchell, who then fired a perfect relay to Howell catcher Trevor McCasey, who got the ball in plenty of time to tag Bahl out.
The game was scoreless until the sixth, when Heikkinen got ahead of Nick Rauch, 1-2, before Rauch then belted a homer to left-center field to give the Highlanders a 1-0 lead.
“It was a fastball down the middle,” he said. “I really wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting a changeup outside. Right off, I didn’t think it was a home run. I thought it was a double off the fence. But we got a run out of it. I was happy.”
Weatherly ran out of gas in the sixth. After allowing a leadoff double and getting a flyout, a walk, a hit batter and an RBI walk led to Holt tying the game. VanEnKevort reached on catcher’s interference, setting up Butterson’s infield hit.
“We did everything we could,” Rauch said. “We played our game. It just didn’t turn out the way we wanted.”
Division 1 regional at Novi
NOVI — Hartland’s string of regional titles ended at two after the Eagles lost to Northville 6-3 in the final, with all six runs coming in the second inning.
The Eagles (34-8) got to the final by beating Livonia Stevenson 3-1 in the semifinal. Max Hendricks got the win, striking out seven.
“We always talk about getting better over the course of the season,” Hartland coach Brian Morrison said, “and we were. That’s all you can ask for.”
Division 2 regional at Eaton Rapids
EATON RAPIDS — Fowlerville got a measure of revenge in the semifinal, beating DeWitt 3-2 after the Panthers had downed them on Monday in the Diamond Classic semifinals.
But the Glads’ season came to an end with a 3-1 loss to Corunna in the final.
Division 1 regional at Grand Ledge
GRAND LEDGE — Howell pulled out a 2-1 win over Richland Gull Lake in the semifinal, but lost to Mattawan in the regional final for the third year in a row, 4-2.