HOWELL — It was a first, so undoubtedly if there’s a second there will be some tweaking.
But overall, Friday’s high school softball game at HAJBA’s Bennett Park drew positive reviews (with the possible exception of the result) from both the Howell and Fowlerville softball teams.
For Fowlerville coach Matt Copeland, it was a visit down memory lane, too.
“I have a picture of myself and a couple of my friends standing behind that dugout there when I was probably 8 years old,” said Copeland, who grew up in Fowlerville. “There’s a real sense of nostalgia when I walked in. Some of our players’ parents have played on this field. It ‘s a great atmopshere, and to be able to come down the road and be part in this, I think its something we could continue and have a great tradition.”
The Bennett Park bleachers were full, with kids chasing foul balls, sometimes heedless of the traffic and earning brief scoldings. A pair of trains added to the atmosphere as they passed by on tracks beyond the left field fence.
Howell coach Ron Pezzoni brought up the idea of a game with HAJBA officials in the offseason. The grass infield at Bennett Park was removed in the offseason, making a regulation high school softball game possible.
“I talked with (HAJBA president) Stacey Katlin and said it would be cool to play a night game every year,” Pezzoni said. “He said, ‘That sounds like an awesome idea. Let’s do it.'”
HAJBA sent an email to youth parents advertising the game, and there was a large crowd in attendance.
There were a few wrinkles. The game started at 7:30 p.m., ahead from an original time of 8:30, which meant the lights had barely taken effect when the game ended.
“We’re playing in the morning (Saturday), and I didn’t want our kids to be out here all night,” Pezzoni said.
Fowlerville starter Leah Ash held the high-scoring Highlanders to three runs in the first three innings, but a pair of errors in the fourth inning opened the floodgates. The Highlanders scored 12 runs, finishing the game on Maddie Gillett’s three-run double.
Ash allowed all 15 runs, but only four were earned.
“We usually have big innings,” said Howell’s Emma Johnson, who led the Highlanders with three hits. “Someone hits, and it’s contagious, and then everyone starts hitting.”
Copeland said his team knew what it was getting into.
“We knew who they were, being this close (geographically),” he said. “Our players know their players and we had a pretty good scouting report, and I thought we did a good job early in the game. In that fourth inning, we made a couple of mistakes and against the No. 3-ranked team in the state (in Division 1), they’ll bury you.”
There seemed to be no hard feelings afterward, as the Gladiators and Highlanders posed for a group picture, with members of both teams sitting side by side.
And, with a year or so to plan, perhaps next year’s game will be truly under the lights.
“We wanted to play under the lights, but I think this is cool,” Johnson said. “It’s a fun game.”