HOWELL — It was a coronation. It was another step.
But whatever it was, for the Hartland and Howell girls basketball teams, it almost certainly was not the end.
“I told Tim, ‘See you soon,’ and he said, ‘You can count on it,'” Hartland coach Don Palmer said of his postgame chat with Howell’s Tim Olszewski after the Eagles beat the Highlanders 33-28 to claim the KLAA West Division crown.
The teams could meet as soon as next week in the KLAA tournament and could meet a fourth time in a Class A district final, if they advance that far.
“It’s not over yet,” Hartland senior Michelle Moraitis said. “KLAA, districts. One championship done, another to go.”
The game was, as predicted by both teams, one of offensive runs, the biggest coming in the first quarter, when Hartland (14-1 overall, 9-0 KLAA West) scored nine points in a row to take a lead the Eagles never relinquished.
“That was tough,” Howell’s Paige Johnson said. “We like to take it quarter by quarter, and we lost the first quarter pretty bad. But we won the second quarter, the third quarter, and the fourth. We battled all of those quarters.”
Howell (13-2, 7-2) got close a couple of times, including 28-26 in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles defense held.
They did so by keeping Leah Weslock under check. She had just six points, less than half her average.
“We put Whitney (Sollom, Hartland’s 6-2 freshman) on her later in the game,” Palmer said. “We know she likes the three, and the hand up discourages that. When you put a 6-2 athlete on her, you can go around her, but you’re probably not going to shoot over her a lot.”
Howell’s Lexie Miller, whom Moraitis trailed all night, was kept mostly in check, despite hitting four 3-pointers for a game-high 12 points.
Certainly, it was a better performance for the Highlanders than in a 48-28 loss at Hartland three weeks before.
“It’s one of those really frustrating games,” Johnson said, “because we got our rotations better than we did our last game and we did a lot of things better than we did last game and shut them down. But our shots didn’t fall one way and there were turnovers where we lost our momentum.”
The Highlanders held Hartland to just two baskets in the second half, but the Eagles went 9-for-12 in the fourth quarter, including a 6-of-6 performance by Lexey Tobel (team-high 11 points) down the stretch.
“You’ve just got to go up there with confidence and put them in,” she said.
Another key contributor was Emily Messner, who came off the bench and scored six points in the fourth quarter.
“What happened was that Whitney comes in and these kids who normally would start are relegated to the bench,” Palmer said. “But they were ready. They stepped up to the task. There’s the old Louisville line — ‘Accept the role the coach gives you, but keep working to get the role you want.’ I think they followed that.”
Both teams end the division season on the road. Hartland is at Grand Blanc, while Howell travels to Brighton before the KLAA tournament starts next week. They could play as soon as Feb. 16 or in the Lakes Conference title game on Feb. 21.
“If we’re in first place, then Howell is in 1-A, then,” Palmer said. “I don’t think they’re a second-place team. Much respect to them, and we were fortunate to get out of here with a win.”
And, most likely, the teams will meet again.
“Hopefully two more times at least,” Olszewski said. “Like I told the girls, there’s lots more to play for, and the most important game is the last one you play. You hope you win that one. We have a lot of goals to reach, and tomorrow, we’re right back at it.”