Howell homers get Highlanders closer to baseball title, 9-1

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HOWELL — You know a team is doing well when, even when individuals don’t execute, the opponent pays anyway.

Case in point: Howell’s 9-1 victory over Walled Lake Central on Monday.

In the second inning, with runners on first and second, Kaeden Palmer failed twice to execute a sacrifice bunt.

The next pitch Palmer belted beyond the trees over the left field fence to give the Highlanders the lead for good, 3-1.

“Coach (Jason) Ladd has been doing that to me since the Dexter (doubleheader),” Palmer said. “He bunted me and it went foul, and I came up the next pitch and hit it out. So I guess it’s helping.”

In the third inning, Caleb Balgaard hit what appeared to be a leadoff double, only to be called out on appeal for not touching first base.

In the fourth, Balgaard hit a three-run homer to put the game out of reach.

“We’re getting better at clutch hitting and putting pressure on teams,” co-coach Mike Weatherly said. “Today was a pretty complete game for our kids.”

Speaking of complete games, Evan Maize went all the way, allowing Walled Lake Central’s only run in the first inning and scattering four hits.

“I had my tempo back,” Maize said. “I kind of lost it last game. My fastball was working, my curveball was working and I had great defense behind me. They made some tough plays today.”

The win left the Highlanders (20-6 overall, 12-1 KLAA West) a half-game ahead of Hartland going into Wednesday’s division finale at Milford.

Currently, Howell and Brighton would need to finish a suspended game from April 20, but if Howell sweeps Milford (which is not a guarantee), the Highlanders would clinch first place in the division.

While Howell has yet to finish a suspended game with Brighton, the Highlanders would win the crown by virtue of sweeping Hartland on April 13.

“We still may (play Brighton),” Weatherly said. “I don’t know how that’s going to shake out. We’ll talk (today).”

But the focus, the coach said, will be as fixed as ever.

“One step at a time,” he said. “We don’t talk about anything except the first game on Wednesday. That’s it. The thing about this group is they’ve done a nice job finishing games, and hopefully they’ll keep doing that.”