Howell takes on Milford in final West doubleheader

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The Howell baseball team could clinch the KLAA West title today if they sweep their final division doubleheader at Milford.

But Highlanders co-coach Mike Weatherly said on Monday that bigger goal wasn’t in his team’s radar.

“One step at a time,” he said. “We don’t talk about anything except the first game on Wednesday. That’s it.”

The Highlanders and Mavericks play at 4 p.m. at Milford High School in a doubleheader that will be broadcast on The Livingston Post.

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Howell (20-6 overall, 12-1 KLAA West) can clinch with a sweep. The Highlanders have a game still unfinished with Brighton, and Hartland (20-3m 12-2) is nipping at their heels.

But even if Brighton and Howell finished that game, which was suspended by darkness on April 20, and Howell lost to force a tie, the Highlanders would play for the Lakes Conference title on Monday.

That’s because Howell swept Hartland in head-to-head competition.

Milford, under first-year coach Spencer Adams, is in fourth place. The Mavericks are 12-8 overall, 7-6 in the division.

Milford is an indicator of the strength at the top of the West: The Mavericks are 0-4 against Brighton and Hartland, 7-2 against the rest of the Lakes Conference.

“They’re a dangerous team, and the kids know that,” Weatherly said.

So, too, are the Highlanders, whose discipline at the plate and aggressiveness on the base paths have proven more than enough, combined with its strengths in the rest of its game.

Case in point: Monday, when catcher Kaeden Powell came up with two out in the third. Coach Jason Ladd had him bunt, twice, and he missed both pitches.

With two strikes, Palmer then connected for a long home run over the row of evergreens beyond the left-field fence at Howell High School.

Asked if he was looking for a certain pitch, Palmer said no.

“I was just sitting back,” he said. “I knew I had to put the ball in play, put the runners over if there’s any one base. Two-strike approaches are always important.”

It’s been a winning formula for the Highlanders, who will end Brighton’s four-year reign atop the West with a win in the first game.

The Highlanders tied with Hartland atop the West in 2011, the only other time Brighton hasn’t won the division title, but Hartland played in the conference title game after besting Howell in tiebreakers.

That’s ancient history, of course, especially for high-schoolers, and if they thought of it, it wouldn’t change  the approach that has proven so successful for the Highlanders.

“We just have to come out, get on them, score a lot of runs and they’ll fall,” Palmer said. “We’ve got to do it twice.”