HOWELL — It’s early, we know.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find a doubleheader anywhere this season that was as full of thrills, drama and plain good baseball as Wednesday’s twin bill between Hartland and Howell.
There was something for everyone — each team won 4-3, with Howell taking the opener — and enough left over for one to contemplate another meeting in two month’s time.
But that would violate the one-game-at-a-time mantra these teams live by, so let’s stick with Wednesday.
The first game featured another gaggle of major-league scouts who came to watch Howell lefty Sam Weatherly pitch, and they saw another strong performance that included 10 strikeouts.
But he was lifted for reliever Garrett Breault in the fifth and avoided injury in the sixth when he dove for a fly ball and slid into the fence in center field. After a couple of minute on the ground, he got up, none the worse for wear.
Kaden Palmer hit a three-run double in the fifth to give Howell a 3-1 lead, and Seamus Mitchell drove in a run with a sacrifice fly an inning later.
The Highlanders (3-4 overall, 1-2 KLAA West) needed that run after Hartland scored two runs with two out in the top of the seventh before Breault ended the rally with a strikeout.
In the second game, the Eagles hit into double plays in each of the first three innings, two of them worthy of highlight reels.
In the first inning, Jack Slavin tried to score on a foul pop fly beyond first base that Nick Rauch caught while running away from the island. But Rauch turned and fired a strike to the plate to get Slavin.
In the second inning, the Eagles had runners on first and second with one out when Mitchell Ziebold hit a sinking fly ball that Brandon Leon caught while running to his right. Steven Felix, who was on second, was on third when Leon caught the ball and was thrown out.
In the third, Hartland had taken a 1-0 lead and had the bases loaded when Cade Martin hit a grounder that Howell pitcher Evan Maize turned into a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
The Eagles’ collective reaction boiled down to this: So?
“It didn’t concern us,” Martin said. “We were hitting the ball and getting good contact. We know the hits will come later in the game, and our team put them together.”
Hartland’s patience was rewarded the next inning, when they pushed across three runs on five singles.
Howell replied with back-t0-back doubles by Weatherly and Caleb Balgaard to start the inning. A Kaden Palmer single and a groundout got Howell to within a run, 4-3.
But Kyle Kletzka, who pitched Hartland into the 2015 finals with a sterling performance on short notice as a sophomore, pitched like the veteran senior he was keeping the Highlander off balance in the fifth.
“WE didn’t know when the last inning was going to be,” Hartland coach Brian Morrison said. “WE thought it would be (the fifth). He thought it was the last inning and he had to go back out.”
In the sixth, Kletzka, not known for being a power pitcher, gave up two hits and struck out the other three Howell hitters to get the win and finish with eight strikeouts on the afternoon/evening.
“He was just throwing strikes,” Howell’s Nick Rauch said. “He was putting stuff in the zone we couldn’t lock in and hit right away. They were good, and we didn’t hit well enough to get the W. What we did wasn’t enough. We have to do more.”
It was Howell’s first loss to Hartland in two seasons.
“It would have been good to get two,” Martin said. “But it was good to get one.”
“It was fun,” Rauch said. “It was a classic rivalry. Hartland vs. Howell. Everyone hates each other.”
Hates, he was asked, or hates to lose to?
“We just don’t like each other,” he said. “We’re not fans of each other.”
If they meet again this season, it would be in the Division 1 championship game.