HOWELL — Left fielder Brandon Leon, whose season ended on Friday, got one last chance to start a game for the Highlanders on Wednesday.
Wearing a neck brace after a frightening collision with a fence against Macomb Dakota in Flint on Friday, Leon stood in left field as Sam Weatherly threw a slow pitch well wide of the plate.
Leon then walked off the field to hugs and cheers from the crowd as Garrett Breault took his place.
The Highlanders then settled in for a nonleague game with Fowlerville, which got a run in the first to take the lead.
But, as they have done time and time again, the Highlanders responded with four runs in the bottom of the first off Fowlerville ace Eric Fritz, including a two-run homer by designated hitter Brandon Maki that landed just short of the scoreboard in left-center field.
“I was looking for a fastball,” Maki said. “It was a 3-2 count, so I knew (Fritz) wasn’t going to throw me a curveball. I was looking for the fastball and crunched it.”
The Gladiators couldn’t overcome the deficit in an 8-5 loss.
Both teams did some experimenting with their pitching staffs. Howell used six pitchers, with Blake Arnold the only pitcher throwing more than one inning, and Fowlerville used five.
“We got a lot of guys throwing,” Howell co-coach Mike Weatherly said. “We’re at a point where we know who our 1-2-3 pitchers are, and if we need help beyond that, we’ve got guys competing, so that was good today.”
Fowlerville coach Matt Hunt, a Howell grad, was pleased with his team’s performance.
“We got a lot of guys in,” he said. “The number that sticks out to me is three errors, some mental, some physical. But if we tighten those things up and compete with Howell, I think we’ll do pretty well in our district and make a pretty good run.”
Fowlerville takes on Eaton Rapids in the second semifinal of a Division 2 district at Jackson Northwest on Saturday. Howell will play Pinckney at about the same time in a Division 1 district at Dexter.
Maki, for one, is ready.
“I think we’re really ready,” he said. “I think we’re going to do well in districts and go really far in states.”