HOWELL — After getting robbed of a base hit in his previous at-bat, Howell senior Bryan Rendell was patient the next time he stepped in the batter’s box.
It was the top of the sixth inning of a Division 1 district championship game, the bases were loaded and the score was tied at 4-4.
In the fifth, Rendell had hit a line drive that was speared by a leaping Dexter second baseman Brenden Ritter.
“I was pretty frustrated, but I knew I hit it good and I knew the next at-bat I could do it again,” Rendell said. “The second baseman had made a nice place. In the next at-bat, I figured they would throw me a first-pitch fastball, and I jumped on it.”
That he did, driving that fastball to deep centerfield, clearing the bases and propelling the Highlanders to an 8-4 win over Dexter and their fifth district title in as many years.
“It never gets old,” said Howell co-coach Mike Weatherly, who along with Jason Ladd has led the Highlanders to district titles the last five seasons. “That (Dexter) is a good team, and this was a tough district championship we just earned.”
The Highlanders will take on host Holt at next weekend’s regional at Holt High School, beginning at 10 a.m.
Howell and the Dreadnaughts took very different paths to the final. Howell scored five runs in the first and went on to take a 7-0 victory. Dexter scored four in the first against Brighton, but the Bulldogs came back to take a 5-4 lead before the Dreadnaughts tied it in the sixth and forced the game to extra innings.
In the eighth leadoff hitter Micheal Bradshaw reached on a wild pitch after swinging and missing at strike three. Courtesy runner Matt Sinelli went to second on a sacrifice and scored the winning run on a single by Ryan Flattery.
“They took advantage of a couple of opportunities, and credit to them on that,” Brighton coach Charlie Christner said of the Dreadnaughts. “This is a good district anyway, and it should be good going down the stretch.”
In the title game, the Highlanders, who were the visitors after losing a coin flip, couldn’t get much of anything going against Dexter starter Micah Berlage.
Nick Rauch’s RBI single gave the Highlanders their first run in the fourth inning, and Howell added two in the fifth when Brett Chaperon doubled and then scored on Caleb Balgaard’s sixth homer of the season.
That gave Howell a 3-2 lead, but the Dreadnaughts took the lead in the bottom of the fifth with a pair of runs.
Sam Weatherly, who had singled and scored the tying run in the top of the sixth, came on in relief to shut Dexter down.
“I just wanted to get people out,” he said. “I trust my defense and what they do behind me.”
Soon enough, though, his arm heated up and he got the last four outs on strikeouts to close out the victory.
“We’re never out of the game, and we know that,” Rendell said. “Same thing as the Northville game (for the KLAA title), where we were down 2-1 in the seventh. We always believe in each other.”
A key component for parents of seniors like Rendell was that the game ended in plenty of time for their boys to change and get to Howell’s graduation at the Breslin Center on time.
But, given his druthers, Rendell didn’t hesitate when asked which was more important, the title or the diploma.
“Aww,” he protested while sporting a wide grin, “this title, for sure.”
It was one of three district titles won by county teams on Saturday.
Hartland rolled to a title on its home field, beating Lakeland 11-1 and Milford 15-5 to advance. Fowlerville, in Division 2, won its district title after beating host Owosso 4-3.