HARTLAND — In his 14th season, Hartland baseball coach Brian Morrison takes nothing to chance.
There are the little things the Eagles work on in practice every day that may or may not ever come to bear during the course of a season.
But there are also things like his schedule, which included a trip to Novi and a trip to Wayne State University.
Why? Because the Eagles regional is at Novi, and the quarterfinal will be at Wayne State. Familiarity can go a long way toward easing nervousness.
All that will be tested Saturday, when the Eagles play in a Division 1 regional, beginning with Livonia Stevenson at 10 a.m., then either Detroit Catholic Central or Walled Lake Northern in the regional final later in the day should the Eagles win their semifinal.
But Morrison takes nothing for granted.
“It’s a baseball game,” he said Thursday. “Who knows how that’s going to go? We’re just preparing to play our best game and go with the flow, whatever happens.”
The Eagles (33-5-1) will take on a Stevenson team (17-14) that has picked up steam in the latter half of the season.
“They’ve played a lot better the second half of the season,” Morrison said. “They’ve not been giving up as many runs in the second half. They’ve got a good pitcher and I imagine we’ll see him, and if not, they have a couple other guys who can throw.”
The same could be said of Hartland, a statement that is as much truth as understatement.
John Baker (9-1, 0.89 ERA, 10-2 strikeouts in 71 innings) and Nathan Lohmeier (8-0, 0.49, 89 in 57 2/3) are likely to pitch Saturday, with Kyle Kletzka (6-2, 2.00 ERA) and Max Hendricks (3-0 0.79 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings) in reserve.
“It helps the whole team,” shortstop Alex Vydick said, “because we know they’ll throw strikes and get us (ground) balls, and it’s our job to get them off the field and hit.”
The Eagles played in a regional at Novi last year, but the field has been converted to artificial turf this season.
“It’s going to be a little faster in the infield,” Lohmeier said. “But you’re not going to have those little cheapie slow rollers. Hopefully, we won’t get too many hard-hit ground balls and we can make the plays.”
The Eagles have done so on fields with many more imperfections all season long, with an offense that has been as good as the Eagles have hoped for all season.
“We haven’t played bad since the first week of the year, when the snow was barely off the ground,” Morrison said. “We just have to play good.”
The Eagles are one of three county teams in regionals today. Howell is at Holt, where the Highlanders take on the host Rams in a rematch of last year’s 3-2 walk off loss in the regionals, while Fowlerville plays host to a regional and will face Portland in the opener.
“We had a tough loss against them,” Fowlerville coach Mike Hanna said. “We had the bases loaded in the seventh against them, up 2-1, and we hit three infield popups. It’s just the way the game goes. Confidence-wise, we know we can beat anyone there. It’s just playing with that confidence.”
The Gladiators (19-11) had to rally to win both games in their district, something senior Alex Montrose thinks might be needed Saturday.
“I think it’s important,” he said. “It shows us we can get through it. Every team has a chance to get through it, and it comes down to who’s going to play better that day.”
It’s the time of year when seniors, especially, put everything on the line in what could be their final games.
“It’s the best time of year,” Vydick said. “We’ve looked forward to this since we were practicing in the gym last winter. It’s awesome.”
Fowlerville is looking to win its first regional in nearly a decade.
“It’s always good to get another chance,” Montrose said. “Fowlerville hasn’t been to a quarterfinal since ’07. What time is better than now?”
Hartland’s Lohmeier, whose team won the state title last season, has a confidence based both in experience and his team’s performance to this point.
“We’ve been here before,” he said. “My sophomore year, we got knocked out in districts, so we’re not taking anything for granted. It was a big deal when we won (a district title) last Saturday, and it’s going to be a big deal when we win this Saturday.”