HOUSTON – Houston coach Scott Gann says second baseman Garrison Howell is a junior who leads and plays like a senior.
Howell stepped up in a monumental way Tuesday when he belted a two-out, two-run, opposite-field double in the bottom of the sixth inning to help the Hilltoppers rally to beat Kosciusko 4-3 in the deciding Game 3 of their MHSAA Class 4A state quarterfinals series.
“He’s been a big key to our success,” Gann said of Howell. “Not just with hits, but doing the little things. He’s like having a senior.”
Houston (26-7-1) plays Division 3 rival West Lauderdale in a best-of-three state semifinals series, scheduled to start Thursday. The Knights won both regular-season games against the Hilltoppers.
Houston trailed 3-2 headed into the bottom of the sixth after the visiting Whippets had produced a 3-run fourth inning.
Howell, who had walked twice and lined out in three previous at-bats, came to the plate looking to make contact with Clay Hillhouse and Hunter Moore on base. He slapped an offering from Kosciusko right-hander Eli Leathers to left field.
“I’m not much of a pull hitter,” Howell said. “I’m a slap-and-run kind of guy. I knew if I could hit it, I could get down the line. I’m lucky it found a hole.”
Houston was limited to four hits by Kosciusko’s pitchers, including starter Brodie Threet. Howell and Moore reached base with hits in the key sixth.
Reid Carter’s two singles were the Hilltoppers’ lone hits coming into the go-ahead inning.
“We knew coming in (Kosciusko) had the arms,” Gann said. “We knew this series would be tight.”
Austin Burdine, a left-hander, worked 21⁄3 innings to earn the pitching win for Houston.
The Hilltoppers ended the game with a doubleplay.
“When we play defense and pitch like we can, nobody can stop us,” said Houston DH Denver McQuary, who had an RBI sacrifice fly.