HARTLAND — For the Howell baseball team, Wednesday’s doubleheader sweep at Hartland was a stepping stone.
For the Eagles, “this is the fourth game of a 38-game schedule,” Hartland coach Brian Morrison said.
While it’s true there’s a lot of season left, Howell’s 10-0 and 2-1 sweep of the Eagles certainly gives the Highlanders a leg up in the KLAA West.
Howell (5-3 overall) improved to 2-1 in the KLAA West, a half-game behind Brighton, which beat and tied Pinckney on Wednesday.
Here’s the KLAA standings.
The Highlanders got there with timely hitting, and plenty of it.
They scored eight of their 10 runs in the opener after the first two hitters in the fourth (two runs) and sixth (six runs) were out.
The other runs, in the third, were scored on a squeeze play and a sacrifice fly.
“We challenged the kids to get some key hits, and they did,” Howell co-coach Mike Weatherly said.
Meanwhile his son, Sam, had two hits and a walk in the opener, scoring twice, and had the tying run in the sixth inning of the nightcap.
On the mound, he wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the second and had runners on second and third in the fourth, but didn’t allow anyone to score. He finished with six walks and seven strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.
“He’s either really good or he can struggle, and today he was really good,” Morrison said of Sam Weatherly. “The other thing he did was when he got into trouble … he was able to get out of it with a big pitch when guys were in scoring position.”
Hartland (1-3, 1-2) also had runners on second and third in the fifth, but reliever Bailey Burton pitched out of trouble.
Meanwhile, Hartland starter John Baker struggled in his first start and allowed four runs in four innings.
“He challenged us with fastballs, and when we got ahead in the count he threw us fastballs and we hit them,” Sam Weatherly said.
The scouts who tracked Baker and Weatherly in the first game were gone when Howell’s Spencer Ford and Hartland’s Kyle Kletzka pitched in the second game.
But both had strong outings in the nightcap.
Hunter DeLanoy scored for the Eagles in the first on Baker’s single, and that was all the offense Hartland could muster in the first five innings.
“I didn’t have my best stuff today,” Ford said. “I think in the first and second innings I was trying to overpower hitters, and then I realized I couldn’t do that.”
Kletzka, meanwhile, kept Howell off the bases in the first five innings. The Highlanders never had more than one baserunner in an inning until the sixth.
Weatherly walked, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored the tying run on Bryan Rendell’s double.
With two outs, Nick Rauch drove Rendell home with the winning run on a triple to right.
The Eagles made a bid as the sun was setting in the seventh. Gary Turnbull singled and went to third on a single by Cade Martin.
But Ford got the final out to clinch the sweep.
“It’s huge,” Ford said. “They are our biggest rivals this year, we thought. We figured it would be between us and them (for the division title), and I think we set the tone pretty well.”
Morrison, meanwhile, was looking forward to a rare outdoor practice today.
“We’ve got a lot of baseball to play, and that’s good,” he said. “It will be nice to have a day of practice, so we can work on a few things.”