BRIGHTON — The first wave of key games in the KLAA West girls basketball season came to Brighton High School on Friday, but afterward, talk wasn’t so much about the result so much as lessons learned.
“I thought for most of the game we were being outhustled,” said Hartland coach Don Palmer, whose team won 43-37. “We were playing hard, but they were at another level.”
Brighton coach Paul Ash, who is relying heavily on underclassmen this season, saw his team’s effort, if not the result, as a positive.
“I told our kids (Hartland) was a state-ranked team,” he said. “If we don’t feel like we can play with everyone in the state right now, I don’t know what else it would take to convince them, because we went toe-to-toe with them.”
And they did, but the Eagles (8-1 overall, 3-0 KLAA West) had a little more in reserve, a little more maturity and a couple less nerves.
Still, they got all they wanted from Brighton’s Julianna Pietila, who had 19 points and scored from seemingly everywhere on the floor.
“The Pietila kid was just fabulous,” Palmer said. “We knew what she was going to do, and where she was going to go, and it didn’t matter. She just outwilled us.”
Pietila, a senior, was joined by freshman center Sophie Dziekan, who had 10 points, all on the inside.
But they were Brighton’s only scorers for the first three quarters and a good part of the fourth.
Meanwhile, Brighton, which played Hartland to a 13-13 tie after one quarter, didn’t score its second 13 points until early in the fourth quarter.
“We just kept it on offense,” Hartland senior Michelle Moraitis said. “We tried to deny (Pietila) the ball. We did the best we could.”
Brighton (7-2, 2-1) did what it could to get others open, but to no avail.
“They started taking the drive away and shadowing Julianna a little more,” Ash said. “That’s when yuou have to have kids step up, and they tried hard, but the moment got to them a little bit.”
Ash was more philosophical than angry in that assessment, as a coach who used three freshmen and two sophomores extensively would have to be.
The Bulldogs trailed 34-26 early in the fourth, then made a switch of their own on defense.
“We played zone, which Brighton never plays,” Ash said. “We caught them off-guard a little bit. We’d been working on it all season, and we thought now’s the time to try it. Let’s change the complexion of the game, and it worked pretty well.”
The Bulldogs went on a 10-3 run, cutting the Hartland lead to 37-36 with about a minute to go, but could get no closer.
“It was everything I expected,” Ash said of the contest. “If we hadn’t come out and played hard, I would be upset. But we went toe-t0-toe with them. Their upperclassmen made some plays, their big kid made some plays and our big kid (Dziekan) fouled out, and that was the difference at the end of the game.”
Another difference came on offense for Hartland. Freshman Whitney Sollom, who had two points in the first half, got going on offense thanks in part to a pep talk from senior Lexey Tobel.
“I told her she’s one of the best players on the court, and she has to play like it,” said Tobel, who finished with 13 points. “Just because they were playing defense, we can’t let it get to our heads and let them think they can shut us down completely.”
The game was the first of a three-game set involving the Bulldogs, Eagles and Howell. The second will be Tuesday, when Howell (8-0, 3-0) travels to Hartland in a game that will determine first place in the West, while Brighton plays at Howell on Friday.
“I’m hopeful our ceiling will be a little higher, because we’re younger and can improve a little bit more,” Ash said. “We have to find a way to be seven or eight points better the next time we see them.”
For the Eagles, the game brought home the point that there aren’t many nights off in the West.
“It’s going to be hard, not easy,” Moraitis said. “We have to play Howell (twice), and we have to play Brighton, and they’re good teams. We might have the most talent, but they’ve got great hustle and have great players. They’ll come at it, too. They have just as much chance as we do.”