Hartland and Howell are separated by just a dozen miles, developing a strong rivalry in all sports throughout the years.
Now, the softball rivalry between Hartland and Howell will go to another level with the teams playing 12:30 p.m. Thursday in a Division 1 state semifinal at Michigan State University for the right to play for the ultimate trophy Saturday.
Hartland (32-5) scored three runs in the seventh inning Tuesday afternoon at Wayne State to defeat No. 1 Clarkston 3-2 in a state quarterfinal.
So, has Hartland fourth-year head coach Bob Greene ever been involved in a dramatic win like the quarterfinal win over Clarkston?
“Well, I don’t know if you were at our regional game last week, but it was similar,” Greene said. “We played South Lyon in the regional final, and it was 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth and Madeline Skene hit a two-run shot to win it, a walk-off and that was on Sunday.
“I think what they are learning is never say never, and every win like this they build more and more confidence that it’s not over until it’s over.”
Hartland won the Class A state championship in 1996, but its last regional title before this season came in 1998.
Hartland is led by the senior Skene, who has 14 home runs this season and 36 for her career.
Skene got off to an outstanding start, going 9-for-15 in the first four games of the season with five homers and 17 RBIs — a lot of that damage coming in a 12-1, 5-2 sweep of Howell back in April.
Skene had two homers and six RBIs in the 12-1 rout, then pitched in the 5-2 victory. She has given way on the mound to freshman Rachel Everett, who earned the win Tuesday over Clarkston.
Howell (29-10) is a far different team since suffering the early season sweep to Hartland, that due to the recovery of sophomore pitcher Molly Carney, who injured her ankle during a car accident in Georgia over Easter break.
Carney, who was 32-3 with a 1.50 ERA last season, is now at the top of her game, allowing just three earned runs during the postseason, striking out 59 in 35 innings of work. She gave up just one hit and one walk while striking out 17 in a 2-1, nine-inning win over Mattawan in the regional semifinals, then tossed a 5-0 shutout in the title game win over Richland Gull Lake.
Mattawan had been Howell’s roadblock in past seasons, including last year when after winning the Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship, Howell carried a 38-2 record into the regional final before losing to Mattawan.
Howell defeated Plymouth and Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year Jenny Bressler, 3-2, in a state quarterfinal at Chelsea.
Bressler retired 16 straight batters until freshman Avery Wolverton hit a home run in the top of the seventh for the difference in the game, avenging a 9-1 setback to Bressler and Plymouth May 22 in the KLAA semifinal.
Wolverton leads Howell’s hitting attack with a .441 average, seven homers and 56 RBI.
Around the horn
While Howell and Hartland know all about each other, the same can be said for Warren Regina and Caledonia, the other semifinal teams which will play 10 a.m. Thursday.
Regina coach Diane Laffey is in search of her seventh state championship, first since leading Regina to a 5-0 win over Caledonia in the 2015 state title game.
Laffey has to feel good about how her team is hitting the ball, scoring 35 runs in the last three games, including a 13-0, five-inning quarterfinal win over Garden City.
… Regina Dunn has done an excellent job at Dearborn Divine Child, helping turn the program around from a three-win team in 2015 to earning three straight trips to the Division 2 state quarterfinals, losing to Richmond in 2016 and 2017 before avenging the losses with a 3-2, eight-inning quarterfinal win Tuesday.
Divine Child center fielder Katie Connolly’s double scored Hannah Zuk for the winning run in the top of the eighth, and she also played well defensively, throwing out Richmond runners at the plate to end threats in the fifth and sixth innings.
All semifinals and finals at MSU
Warren Regina vs. Caledonia, 10 a.m.
Howell vs. Hartland, 12:30 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 10 a.m.
Dearborn Divine Child vs. South Haven, 3 p.m.
Escanaba vs. Eaton Rapids, 5:30 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Sanford Meridian vs. Millington, 10 a.m.
Clinton vs. Coloma, 12:30 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 3 p.m.
Rogers City vs. Coleman, 3 p.m.
Unionville-Sebewaing vs. Centreville, 5:30 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.