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Livingston County’s Top 10 moments of the spring sports season

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The spring sports season is over, and perhaps surprisingly so.

With two lacrosse teams, three baseball teams, a top softball team and girls soccer team all still in action entering last week, it made for perhaps one of the most exciting weeks in recent memory in Livingston County. However, it came to a disappointing end, as none of those teams managed to escape with their season still alive.

That said, it certainly doesn’t put a damper on a spring season which saw four teams hold top-three state rankings in their respective sports, crowned a state champion in two events and watched multiple records shattered in multiple sports.

 

Here’s our list of the top 10 spring sports moments in 2017.

10) Hartland boys golf avenges regional loss, takes ninth in state meet

Hartland failed to qualify for the Division 1 state meet in 2016. Worse than that, it happened in the most excruciating way, finishing tied for third with Brother Rice at regionals and losing in two-hole, sudden death playoff. Erasing that memory was the sole motivating factor for seniors Nic Hoffman and Kyle Luce, who carried that with them in 2017. Well, those two — along with freshman Bryce Brief, sophomore Dylan Huck and junior Mitchell Cotten — succeeded in reaching states this year. One of Hartland’s younger teams in recent memory, it wound up taking ninth, its fifth top-10 finish in the past eight seasons. Cotten and Luce led the way by each shooting 161 in the two-day tournament. Hoffman offered up a score of 162 as Hartland shot a collective 652.

 

9) Mitter, Talbott finish back-to-back at states, break school records

It was one of the area’s most exciting individual track and field rivalries this season, Howell’s David Mitter and Pinckney’s Ryan Talbott going head-to-head in the 3,200-meter run. That rivalry carried all the way to the state meet, where the two were neck-and-neck coming down the stretch. It was decided by a little more than a second, with Mitter edging Talbott to take fourth while the latter was fifth. Still, both were all-state two-mile runners, and both were new school record holders at the race’s conclusion. Mitter’s time of 9 minutes, 9 seconds bested Matt French’s mark of 9:17.20 set back in 2002 while Talbott’s 9:10.64 beat Pinckney’s record of 9:18.2, established by Nick Katsefaras in 2005.

 

8) Hartland girls lacrosse reaches sixth straight semifinals

For the second straight year, Hartland lost to Brighton for the Lakes Conference title. Also, for the second straight year, the Eagles got the last laugh, as Brighton was knocked out in regionals of the Division 1 state tournament while No. 3-ranked Hartland stormed to the semifinals for a sixth consecutive season. The Eagles were close to snapping what is now a five-game skid in the semis. Led by Emily Beazley’s eight-goal game — the seventh-highest single-game goal total in state history, according to the MHSAA record books — Hartland came back from a three-goal deficit vs. Birmingham to force overtime. In overtime is where 2017 would end for Hartland. Birmingham scored twice to win, 13-11, and advance to face Rockford, which beat Birmingham for its fifth state title is as many seasons.

 

7) Brighton girls soccer lives up to expectations

This was all but certain to be Brighton’s season. Coming off an overtime loss in the regional final vs. Novi last year, the Bulldogs had almost the entirety of their squad back and were extra incentivized to make another run at it. For the most part, they lived up to the lofty expectations, winning the KLAA West, Lakes Conference and KLAA Association championships. The KLAA title game win — their first since 2009 — came over Novi and served as retribution. The second-ranked team in D1, the Bulldogs made it all the way back to the regional final before being knocked off by No. 1 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, 3-1. It was a tough draw and tough luck for the Bulldogs — they beat final four team Saline and played to two draws against another in Grand Blanc. Forest Hills Central may have been the only team left capable of beating them.

 

6) Brighton baseball claims another KLAA title

It wasn’t supposed to be Brighton’s year in the KLAA West. Hartland was coming off a second straight trip to the Division 1 state semifinals in 2016, and Howell was the reigning KLAA Association champion with nine future collegiate baseball players on its roster. Yet it was Brighton’s Cameron Tullar, Trevor Hopman, Rudy Ramirez, Austin Ford and much more that helped the Bulldogs find themselves atop the West standings once again. Brighton had two memorable wins over the Highlanders and Eagles, the former it defeated 7-6 to earn a doubleheader split — and it would win the division over Howell by one game — and the latter it beat, 3-2, to sweep in a twinbill. The Bulldogs would own the No. 10 ranking in Division 1 entering districts, where they encountered Ann Arbor Skyline’s red-hot pitcher Eamon Horwedel, who won a fantastic pitcher’s duel with Tullar in extra innings, ending Brighton’s year prematurely. That said, seven division titles in nine seasons and 20 in 38 seasons is nothing to scoff at, especially given the level of competition in the West.

 

5) Eric Fritz pitches Fowlerville into regional finals

Maybe Fowlerville’s whole season should be included, as under first-year head coach Matt Hunt, the Gladiators were excellent, earning a season-opening victory, 8-1, over 2015 state champion and 2016 Division 1 state semifinalist Hartland, and continuing to roll from there. But Fowlerville’s year was perhaps encapsulated by the do-or-die outing by Fritz. With Hunt and two of the Glads’ top players, Wyatt Thomas and Nate Leonard, suspended for regionals after being ejected in districts, their chances appeared slim heading into the game with fifth-ranked DeWitt. It was going to take a dominant outing from Fritz to overcome the Panthers. And that’s precisely what he gave them, tossing seven innings of two-run ball while giving up three hits and striking out six as Fowlerville won, 6-2. Fritz did it on only 78 pitches, meaning he was able to start the title round vs. Corunna, where he delivered three scoreless innings. However, when he reached the pitch limit and had to be removed, the Glads stumbled and ended losing, 3-2, to Corunna.

 

4) Sam Weatherly’s district title duel with Ann Arbor Skyline

Howell’s Sam Weatherly is really, really good. That surely is not breaking news. So good that the Detroit Free Press has the senior high schooler listed amongst the top-10 players to watch in the state — high school or college — during this year’s MLB Draft. And Weatherly perhaps has never been better than when his team needed him most in the district championship game. Up against Ann Arbor Skyline’s ace Eamon Horwedel, who had days earlier blanked No. 10 Brighton in the district opener, Weatherly was almost perfect. He allowed a hit to Skyline’s leadoff batter, then didn’t surrender another one for his 6 2/3 innings on the mound. His one-hitter featured nine strikeouts and only three walks, and propelled Howell to its sixth straight district title. Howell needed every bit of it, too, as Horwedel also dazzled, going six strong innings, letting up three hits and punching out five. The one run he let cross came on a gutsy call, as Howell co-head coach Jason Ladd signaled for the squeeze bunt from Nick Rauch with Johnny Shields charging home from third.

 

3) Howell softball’s dominance

It’s crazy to think after Howell set 10 records on offense in 2016 that the 2017 version was even better. As a group, this year’s Highlanders collected records in hits (513, besting last year’s mark of 493 and doing it in fewer at-bats), singles (357), doubles (102), triples (38), RBIs (387), runs scored (462), batting average (.443) and slugging percentage (.638). Incredible. They also outscored opponents by 356 runs, 462-106, an average of more than 8.5 runs per game. Howell again ran away with the KLAA West, then won its first KLAA Association championship by demolishing Canton. As the No. 2-ranked team in Division 1, it claimed a district title for the fourth straight year. However, Howell ran into a familiar foe, Mattawan, in the regional title game, and lost, 4-2.Still, head coach Ron Pezzoni said after the game that this just might be the best Howell team of all-time, and it’s tough to disagree.

 

2) Hartland boys lacrosse program reaches new heights

It was a historic season for Hartland. For the first time in school history, the Eagles reached the Division 1 state semifinals, won the Lakes Conference and KLAA titles, and ended an incredibly long Brighton winning streak. The Eagles dropped the Bulldogs, 16-5, earlier in the year, finishing the Dogs’ 63-game unbeaten streak against Lakes Conference teams, and 51-game win streak vs. those same squads. The Eagles, who went 7-0 in the Lakes, then claimed the KLAA Association championship with a win over Kensington Conference winner South Lyon United. Their biggest accomplishment of the season was getting to the semis. There, Hartland took four-time runner-up in Detroit Catholic Central to overtime, exchanging leads throughout the game before succumbing by one goal, 12-11, in the extra period. Of course, that made the conclusion of 2017 bittersweet, but did nothing to put a damper on a tremendous, and, perhaps, changing-of-the-guard season.

 

1) Paxton Titus wins two track and field state championships

Livingston Christian’s one-man team of Paxton Titus added his name to the short list of Livingston County state champions in 2017 by sweeping the throwing events at the Division 4 state meet, putting himself in county lore as the only male track and field athlete to claim multiple state titles in one year. He was also only the fourth area athlete to repeat as a state champion, having won the D4 discus title in 2016. Titus’ throw in the discus this year of 169 feet, 10 inches was the furthest in D4 by more than 14 feet. His shot put toss of 55 feet, 9-1/2 inches won gold by more than four feet.

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