MILFORD — After clinching the KLAA West Division championship on Wednesday, the Howell baseball team celebrated by posing for photos for about five minutes.
Then the Highlanders cleaned out their dugout in record time, already moving on to the next goal on their list after sweeping Milford 12-0 and 12-5.
But that didn’t mean they didn’t savor the accomplishment.
“It’s huge,” said Spencer Ford, who homered in the opener and got the win in the nightcap. “Brighton’s won it the last 4-5 years, so to finally win it is a great experience.”
The Highlanders won the first game with an 11-run fourth inning. As they have much of the season, Howell did most its damage with two outs.
It was 4-0 when Caleb Balgaard hit a three-run double, Ford hit a two run homer and Nick Rauch a two-run shot as the Highlanders pulled away.
On the mound, Sam Weatherly was almost unhittable. He allowed just one hit, a third-inning single by Joe Bravo, and struck out 12.
“He was tossing hard,” catcher Kaeden Palmer said. “He was on it today. He found his groove.”
Weatherly walked two and hit two, but pitched out of trouble when he had to. Eleven of the first 12 outs were strikeouts.
In the nightcap, Howell led 2-0 after three innings and loaded the bases in the fourth before Palmer belted a grand slam to give the Highlanders all the runs they would need.
“I just know my guys are going to back me up every time we go out there,” Ford said, “and to see my catcher do it is pretty cool.”
Caleb Balgaard also homered for the Highlanders, while Ford allowed an earned run for the first time all season, a string of 29 1/3 innings.
Howell co-coach Jason Ladd praised his team’s efforts.
“We lost 10 seniors from last year, and it’s a credit to these guys, just battling and coming through for us,” he said. “It’s starting to come through. The kids are buying in at the lower levels. We’ve got a great feeder system in the travel program and the Howell Highlander travel baseball, and it will hopefully continue to have success.”
Howell (22-6 overall, 14-1 West) and Hartland each have 14 wins in the division, but Howell holds any tiebreaker because the Highlanders swept their doubleheader last month.
The Highlanders still have a suspended game with Brighton, which could be finished on Friday. Howell led that game 2-0 when it was suspended.
Howell then plays in a weekend tournament in Hudsonville before traveling to Lakeland for the Lakes Conference title on Monday.
“The last week, we’ve been clicking as a team,” Ford said. “Everyone’s hitting as a team and we’re on a roll at the right time. It will be good to take that momentum into the playoffs.”