It’s been a while — in high school baseball, five weeks is a long while — since Howell lost to Lakeland, 9-5, in the first Lakes Conference meeting of the season between the teams.
Things should be quite different today, when the teams meet for the Lakes Conference title in a game that will be broadcast on The Livingston Post starting at 4:20 p.m.
“We knew they were going to be really good this year,” Howell co-coach Jason Ladd said of the Eagles, who won the KLAA North this season,. “They had a good team last year and they’ve got all of those kids back.”
The Highlanders on that day were looking to get some work in for their starters as well as prepare for a doubleheader later that week against Hartland.
It met with mixed results. Blake Arnold didn’t retire a batter in the second inning, allowing four runs, and Evan Maize struggled for the only time this season, allowing four more runs in 3 1/3 innings.
“We had a couple of problems that game,” Howell junior shortstop Caleb Balgaard said. “We didn’t hit the ball well, and I think it was the only time this season we haven’t hit the ball well.”
Fast-forwarding to today, the Highlanders are much more in sync. That was in evidence last week at Milford, when the Highlanders got out to big leads early against Milford in a 112-0, 12-5 sweep, and have established Sam Weatherly, a lefty, and righthander Spencer Ford as their aces.
Weatherly has 38 strikeouts in his last three starts, while Ford went 29 1/3 innings before allowing an earned run against Milford.
“There’s been a lot of growth with this team,” Ladd said, “We’ve played (23) games since thenm and guys have taken to coming together as a unit and as a team.”
And that, in turn, has the Highlanders relaxed and ready to go, Balgaard said.
“We know that if we come out and play like we normally do, we’ll walk out with wins,” Balgaard said. “It’s really relaxing. Our confidence is way up right now.”
The winner will play host to the KLAA championship game on Wednesday against either Canton or Northville.
The Highlanders also are scheduled to finish a game with Brighton that was suspended by darkness on April 20. That game will be resumed at Howell on Thursday with the Highlanders leading 2-0 after two innings,
But Howell has been focused on the game in front of them all season, which has helped them earn their first berth in the Lakes Conference championship game.
“We’ve lost a few nonleague games, but no league games,” Ladd said. “I think we’re prepared, just like we know they will be prepared. It will be a one-run ballgame, probably, one way or the other. It will (come down to( who executes better.”