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No. 5 Howell’s Luke Russo stays red-hot to start season, tossing combined no-hitter vs. Westland John Glenn

By: Matthew B. Mowery, March 29, 2019, 8:50 pm

HOWELL — You certainly couldn’t blame Howell’s Luke Russo if he came out a little slowly to start his senior season.

After all, the Highlanders’ No. 1 starting pitcher is also a starting guard on the school’s boys basketball team that made a run all the way to the semifinals — the program’s deepest run in 92 seasons — playing in that game four days after the start of baseball practice, and nine days before the team’s first scheduled contest on the diamond.

Needless to say, he has not.

The Eastern Michigan commit combined with Dylan Kama to throw a six-inning no-hitter against Westland John Glenn in Friday afternoon’s Kensington Lakes Activities Association opener, as No. 5-ranked Howell stayed unbeaten with a 10-0 win shortened by the mercy rule.

“Our pitching was really good, obviously. Pitching and defense through the first five, that’s been one solid. We’ve had a couple of games where we’ve scored double-digits in runs, but pitching and defense has held us in, so that’s huge. He (Russo) is our No. 1, but we’ve got five or six really strong arms,” Howell co-coach Jason Ladd said, noting that Russo had brief moments of control issues. “It’s cold out. It’s hard to stay warm.”

The twosome faced three over the minimum through six innings — with Russo allowing a pair of leadoff walks in the third and fourth, then a passed ball on a strikeout in the fifth allowing him that rarest of feats: A four-strikeout inning. Kama set the Rockets (1-2) down in order in the sixth.

Russo struck out 11 in his first outing against Lowell, allowing a run on two hits in five innings, but he has also has been hot with the bat to start the season: He was 2-for-2 with a walk and an RBI Friday, leaving him hitting .733 (11 for 15) with seven RBI in five games.

At this point of the season, given the normal early spring weather in Michigan, most coaches are just happy to get games in, regardless of what they look like. Going 5-0 is just a bonus.

“We got four in this week, luckily. We played Lowell on Sunday, moved the game up Monday to Sunday, then we played Kalamazoo Christian on Wednesday. We lucked out and the weather’s hit us with good timing,” Ladd agreed. “You gotta get all the games in you can, you know. … It’s hit or miss.”

Russo’s walk was one of four drawn by the Highlanders in the first inning Friday.

Cleanup hitter Kyle McClure drove in the first two with a single to left-center, then another scored when Mason Malysz’s blooper dropped in front of the right fielder.

Howell had a runner thrown out at the plate in th third, but blew the game open in the fifth, sending 11 batters to the plate in a six-run inning, putting them on the precipice of invoking the mercy rule.

Isaak Miller, Jacob Purdy and Russo opened the inning with consecutive singles to make it 4-0, then two more came home on a single by McClure. Adam Mrakitsch’s RBI single forced a pitching change by the Rockets, then Owen Burke drew a bases-loaded walk to flip the lineup over, and Miller plated the fifth run on a sacrifice fly.

D.J. Hamilton’s RBI double in the sixth got the lead to 10 runs, invoking the mercy rule.

The Highlanders are off until Wednesday and Thursday, when they play a home-and-home with Hartland. John Glenn is scheduled to host a doubleheader against Ann Arbor Pioneer on Monday.