The high school baseball season is at its midpoint, with three weeks to go before the state tournament begins on May 26.
In Livingston County, the midpoint is marked by the Lee Shelander Classic, a baseball tournament that will be held for the 41st time on Saturday.
Four of the five county teams will be competing on Saturday along with Battle Creek Lakeview and Ann Arbor Pioneer rounding out the six-team field.
Pool play is set to begin at 9 a.m. at Brighton and Howell, with the pool champions meeting at around 4:30 p.m. for the championship game at Howell High School.
The tournament was named after Lee Shelander, the former Livingston County Press sports editor who created it with then-Brighton coach Mark Carrow in 1975, after Shelander’s death in 1976.
“It’s known around the state as a quality tournament,” Howell co-coach Jason Ladd said. “The kids are always excited to play. We’re looking forward to some good competition. Everyone’s capable of making it interesting. Last year, Pinckney had us down to the last out (before Howell rallied to win. You never know. It’s good baseball.”
Shelander’s brother, Steve, will be on hand to throw out the first pitch. Lee Shelander’s widow, Mary Dixon, also may attend.
“The tournament is always special,” said Fowlerville coach Mike Hanna, who played on the last Fowlerville team to win the title in 1995. “They’re always tough games for us. But it’s fun. It’s good to see Howell and see what their program is like. It gives us a chance to compete with them.”
Fowlerville (13-4) and Ann Arbor Pioneer (6-9) will compete in the same pool as Howell (14-5).
Battle Creek Lakeview (14-2) and Pinckney (4-8) are in the pool with Brighton (10-4).
“The kids are really looking forward to coming and playing,” Lakeview coach Jeff Sovran said. “We get to see some different faces, and it’s a nice level of competition to pay for us. We’re really looking forward to it.”
Should Lakeview and Howell reach the final, it would be a rematch of a regional final last year, which Lakeview won 14-12 after holding off a late Howell rally. The Spartans reached the Division 1 semifinals.
Pinckney has never won a Shelander title, and Brighton hasn’t won in 11 years, but both coaches, Matt Evans of the Pirates and Charlie Christner of the Bulldogs, are well-versed in the Shelander. Both are former Brighton players.
“For Brighton guys, we all know about how Mark and Lee got it started,” Christner said. “There are really good teams in the county, and to add Pioneer and Lakeview, you’re going to have to play really well to win.”
The Pirates are coming off a sweep of Milford this season and trying to end the program’s long drought in the Shelander. Pinckney hasn’t gotten to the final sine 1993.
“It’s fun, but the focus is still having a good showing,” Evans said. “It’s another chance to play quality baseball teams. We drew Brighton and Lakeview, and we’re expecting guys to rise to the occasion and show us something, whether it’s young guys or veterans.”
The county team not playing this year is Hartland, which will play Zeeland East tonight at Davenport University’s field, which begins at 5 p.m. and will end under the lights.
Zeeland East is coached by Matt Sattler, a former Hartland standout who has a close relationship with Brian Morrison, who coached Sattler in his final two seasons at Hartland.
“When he was a player, he said he wanted to be a head coach and teach,” Morrison said. “I’m proud he worked for what he watned and he got it. It will be a cool atmosphere and will be fun.”
Howell is the defending champion, having won the last four in a row. The streak is second to the seven Brighton won in a row at the turn of the century.
Brighton has won 12 titles, Howell nine, Hartland eight and Fowlerville three.
Last year, the Highlanders rocked Brighton 18-2, the biggest margin of victory in tournament history.
It’s a loss that the Bulldogs haven’t forgotten.
“One of our main goals is to win it,” senior Alexx Zielinski said. “Previously, we wanted to win but it wasn’t a huge priority. (This year,) it’s priority No. 1, and we’re going to go out there and try to get it.”
Asked about winning a fifth Shelander title in a row, Ladd said, “That would be sweet if that happens. I think this is going to be a good (tournament). Some close games, for sure. It will come down to the little things, who makes the big play at the right time.”
■WHAT: 41st annual Lee Shelander Classic
■WHERE: Brighton and Howell
■WHEN: Tournament starts at 9 a.m. Saturday, with championship at Howell around 4:30 p.m.
■ON THE WEB: Listen to the championship game on livingstondaily.com
■9 a.m.: Brighton vs. Pinckney
■11 a.m.: Pinckney vs. Battle Creek Lakeview
■1 p.m.: Battle Creek Lakeview vs. Brighton
■9 a.m.: Howell vs. Fowlerville
■11 a.m.: Fowlerville vs. Ann Arbor Pioneer
■1 p.m. Ann Arbor Pioneer vs. Howell
■4:30 p.m.: Championship
Times are approximate