When Howell and Brighton get together, there is plenty at stake, enough so that for the Highlanders, clinching the KLAA West is almost an afterthought.
“We’re more focused on playing with the passion and the toughness that got us to being 7-0 (in the KLAA West) in the first place,” Howell coach Nick Simon said. “That’s our focus more than anything else right now.”
The Highlanders (10-4 overall, 7-1 KLAA West) are coming off a 50-44 loss at Hartland on Tuesday. They’ll take on Brighton (5-10, 4-5) on Howell’s Senior night in a game that will be broadcast on The Livingston Post.
Howell’s magic number to clinch is one; a win or a Milford loss would give the Highlanders their first league title since winning the KVC in 1995-96.
“Everyone looks at the schedule when it comes out,” Brighton coach Mike Griest said. “You look for your big games and your rival games, and this is both. Being at the end of the season, we were hoping this would be for the championship. We’re not in that position, but we still have a little say as to who will be the champion.”
Simon expects tonight’s contest to be another test for his team.
“Going through the division for the second time, we’re going to get their absolute best,” he said. “The Milford game was close, the Pinckney game was really close, the Hartland game we lost. That’s held true for all the games the second time through, and Brighton should be the same way.”
Howell was without leading scorer Johnny Shields against Hartland due to illness, but Simon said there was another lesson learned.
“We can’t take a quarter or a half off with our energy or our effort,” he said. “We always talk about how there’s a real fine line between being a great team and being an average team, and we were maybe on the wrong side of that line. I thought Hartland had passion and effort on their end.”
Titles aside, the Highlanders and Bulldogs have plenty on the line tonight.
“It’s something to embrace and it’s what’s fun about sports, having a big rival,” Simon said. “I think the kids on both sides really enjoy this matchup. I think they’re going to come out pretty fired up. I think we’ll be pretty fired up, too. It should be pretty fun.”
“You’re playing for your town,” Griest said. “You’re playing for your school, and these kids have grown up playing each other. They know each other, they know each other’s families, and they’re going to see each other 10, 20 years from now. These games have a lot at stake, not just that night, but for years after.”