Highlanders roll in spring break finale

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HOWELL — Highlanders baseball co-coach Jason Ladd picked up a game with Detroit University Prep earlier in the week.

“We don’t know a lot about them,” he said Wednesday.

On Friday, the visiting Panthers were game, but no match for the Highlanders, who won 15-0 in a game shortened to four innings by the mercy rule.

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Four Howell pitchers combined to pitch a no-hitter, retiring the visiting Panthers in order. University Prep got only one runner on base, on a leadoff walk in the third, but he was caught stealing.

Spencer Ford, Evan Maize, Garrett Breault and Jon Shields pitched an inning apiece, combining for seven strikeouts.

“Those guys needed an inning or two to get back into some competition,” Howell co-coach Mike Weatherly said.

The Howell hitters took care of the rest.

Howell (3-2) took a 3-0 lead in the first inning, thanks in part to a two-run triple by Nick Rauch, then put the game out of reach with a 10-run second.

University Prep starter Shawn Pittman had some control problems, and the Highlanders took advantage.

“He’s a big, athletic kid and had a good curveball and some velocity,” Weatherly said. “I think we had some valuable at-bats. We’re stressing the importance of having good approaches at the place. The kids understand the counts and what they’ve got to do in those situations.”

“The goal was to get some good, quality at-bats,” said junior Caleb Balgaard, who had four hits and four RBIs. “We worked on sitting on fastball, not chasing curves and having a quality game while playing the right way.”

University Prep is a charter school whose baseball program was revived a couple of years ago. It was the Panthers first game of the season, but the gap, both in talent and experience, was wide enough between the teams that a joint scrimmage after the game was cancelled.

But the Highlanders held their own intersquad scrimmage, with the game’s umpires staying an extra hour to provide game-like conditions.

“It was a lot of fun,” Balgaard said. “It was an opportunity to have more fun with teammates and get at-bats against live pitchers.”

And so spring break ended for the Highlanders on a high note, having gotten five games in during the last week of March and beginning of April.

“It was a lot of fun,” Balgaard said. “I’m super excited for the season to start. I can’t wait for more.”

The KLAA season begins with a Lakes Conference crossover at Lakeland on Wednesday.

“We’ll still play some nonconference games, but this gets us ready for league play,” Weatherly said. “It was a big goal of ours.”

Balgaard chuckled when asked if wearing three shirts, as he did, helped on a sunny yet chilly day.

“It’s baseball in Michigan,” he said, smiling. “You get what you get.”