HOWELL — The Hartland boys basketball team got into the KLAA tournament on a tiebreaker.
Today, the Eagles are one of four teams with a shot at winning the league title.
They got there by holding off Howell, 47-45, on Monday night, earning a berth in the Lakes Conference championship game against Walled Lake Western, which beat Grand Blanc 73-63.
The game is scheduled to be played at Hartland, but when is a question. The KLAA website has the game being played on Saturday, but the Hartland High School field house will be unavailable due to a previously scheduled AAU tournament that day.
But that’s the way it goes, sometimes. Win first and figure out the details later.
“I’m just so happy to be here now,” said Hartland senior Carson Miller, who had 15 points. “No one expected us to make it this far in the tournament. We believe in each other and believe in ourselves. We have a lot of confidence right now.”
“Our seniors came together,” said Kolton Paul, another senior whose game-high 19 points included 10 in the third quarter. “We’re really jelling. We came out with some swagger, and that’s been helping us.”
Hartland (8-9) never trailed in the game, taking a 9-0 lead in the first quarter and went on another spurt that had them up by as many as 12 points in the second half.
“I think we lost the game in the beginning, getting down 9-0,” Howell coach Nick Simon said. “It felt like we were fighting back the entire game. I give our guys a lot of credit. They pushed hard to get back and have a chance to win it, but against a good basketball team, you can’t play from behind the entire game.”
But the Highlanders had one last push in them in the fourth quarter, getting to within one while Hartland’s offense sputtered.
On the other hand, both teams struggled at the free-throw line down the stretch. Hartland was 5-for-11 at the line, including 0-for-4 in the final seconds, while Howell was just 3-for-10.
“It was funny,” Hartland coach Kevin Blouin said. “I looked to my assistant and he said, ‘The next team that makes a free throw is going to win the game.’ And no one could.”
The Highlanders made up for it by attacking in the paint, then getting their final points on a 3-pointer by Josh Palo. A last-second desperation heave by Jon Shields (10 points) hit the rim and bounced away at the buzzer.
“We were hitting our shots, taking good shots and amping up the defensive pressure helped,” Simon said. “We had opportunities where we had points that we missed on.”
Howell (12-6) will finish out the season in the consolation bracket of the tournament, while Hartland has scheduled games on Tuesday against Linden and either the KLAA title game or consolation game on March 3.