Howell ends KLAA West girls’ title drought with 43-28 win over Brighton

Howell's Lexie Miller celebrates after cutting a piece of the net following the Highlanders' win Friday night. Howell beat Brighton, 43-28, clinching its first KLAA West title since 2010. (Photo by Tim Robinson)
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HOWELL — Erin Honkala was all over the court for the Howell girls basketball team on Friday night, pulling down rebounds, blocking shots, picking up steals.

But, late in the third quarter on Friday’s game against Brighton, she was standing at the 3-point line in front of the Howell bench when Lexie Miller drove to the basket in the final seconds.

Miller was stopped by a Brighton defender, and went to Plan B.

Howell's Lexie Miller celebrates after cutting a piece of the net following the Highlanders' win Friday night. Howell beat Brighton, 43-28, clinching its first KLAA West title since 2010. (Photo by Tim Robinson)
Howell’s Lexie Miller celebrates after cutting a piece of the net following the Highlanders’ win Friday night. Howell beat Brighton, 43-28, clinching its first KLAA West title since 2010. (Photos by Tim Robinson)

“I saw there were two seconds on the clock,” Miller said, “and I knew Erin was in range (for a pass). So I passed it to her behind me.”

Honkala is known for a lot of things, but not for long-range shooting.

But she grabbed the pass, hoisted the shot, and was as stunned as anyone when it went through at the buzzer.

“That’s only my second shot,” she said, asked how many 3s she had hoisted in her career. “It was a miracle it went in.”

It was part of a dominating performance by the Highlanders, who spotted Brighton the first seven points of the game, then rolled past the Bulldogs, 43-28, to clinch the KLAA West Division title.

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It’s the first title in six years for the Highlanders, who will begin play in the Lakes Conference tournament on Tuesday.

“I can’t even begin to describe how fun it is,” sophomore Paige Johnson said after helping cut down the net in the Howell gym. “These girls are like my family, and the coaches have been so nice. It’s truly a family thing.”

Johnson and Honkala shut down Brighton post Beth Dziekan, who had just four points and found herself struggling to hold onto the ball when Johnson was slapping at it, then trying to arc the ball over Honkala.

“For whatever reason, we didn’t kick it out to the open player,” Brighton coach Paul Ash said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t send it to an open player, and it doesn’t mean we’re not going to get it back to (Dziekan). We just weren’t patient (on defense) tonight. We got in a hurry and out of what we should be doing.”

But it was Howell (14-2 overall, 9-1 KLAA West) that was misfiring at both ends of the floor early.

“We had some bad passes,” Miller said. “We weren’t executing and we needed to slow it down a little bit. Once we got our heads together, we started making good passes.”

Howell players and coach Tim Olszewski, in green shirt, break a huddle after cutting down the net on Friday night.
Howell players and coach Tim Olszewski, in green shirt, break a huddle after cutting down the net on Friday night.

Miller got things going with a 3-pointer with 2:47 left in the quarter. The Highlanders scored nine of the next 11 points as the period ended in a 9-9 tie, then pulled away with an 11-3 run in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, Honkala was being double-teamed, which left room for Miller to shine. She scored nine of her 11 points on the night in the first half.

“We realized what they were trying to do,” Howell coach Tim Olszewski said. “So we went to Plan B. Lexie was more effective that way. She takes what’s here. She doesn’t force things and runs a good point for us. Hats off to her for playing within herself when we needed her to.”

The second half, for Howell, belonged to Honkala, who scored 13 of her game-high 17 points after the break, adding 13 rebounds and five blocks on the night.

Howell coach Tim Olszewski finishes cutting down the net after his team downed Brighton, 43-28, to win the KLAA West title on Friday.
Howell coach Tim Olszewski finishes cutting down the net after his team downed Brighton, 43-28, to win the KLAA West title on Friday.

“She’s an exceptional player, and athlete, and competitor,” Olszewski said. “You can contain her for a while, but she’s going to find a way to put herself in a  good position for her team.”

Brighton (10-6, 7-3), led by Dana Schemanske’s 11 points, finished third in the division and also will play in the Lakes Conference tournament.

“We want to win it,” Ash said, “but in reality it’s four games for us to get better for districts. We’ll have to beat Hartland or Howell in the districts, and we’ve won only one of four games against those teams. We have two weeks to work on it. These kids work hard. It won’t be an effort thing. We just have to execute better.”

There was some confusion after the net had been cut down, when it turned out that no one in the gym knew how to put up a replacement net.

If the Highlanders have their way, they might have to figure it out again in a week and a half.

But that begins Sunday, when, assuming there’s a net in place, the Highlanders begin preparing for Walled Lake Northern, their first-round opponent in the conference tournament.

“Celebrate, and get back at it,” Honkala said. “Put some more hard work in.”

“It feels great,” Miller said of the title. “It shows our hard work. We work our butts off in practice, and we work harder than anyone in the state. We deserve it.”