SOUTH LYON — No one on the Howell basketball team would have been foolish enough to say that beating Brighton a third time would be easy.
But few could have seen how hard it could be.
In a testament to grit, determination and teamwork, the Highlanders ended the Bulldogs’ season in four overtimes in the semifinals of a Class A district at South Lyon East, 47-45.
The win set up a fourth match with Hartland, which rolled past host South Lyon East, 60-29. They will play for the district title at 6 p.m. Friday.
The grit was in the form of Paige Johnson, who injured her ankle late in the fourth quarter and was carried to the trainer’s room. She came back, hobbling, and played the first two overtimes before fouling out.
The determination was written on the face of Lexie Miller, who didn’t score until the fourth quarter and carried her team in overtime, hitting the free throws that finally iced the game for the Highlanders.
The teamwork came from, among others, Avery West and Kelly Lewis, who were pressed into service and responded well. West hit a pair of free throws in the third overtime to send it to a fourth, and Lewis had a key defensive stop early in the fourth OT.
“We are a team,” Howell coach Tim Olszewski said. “People see the (starting) five all the time playing, but we talk about the iceberg, and the foundation is important. Tonight, the foundation got out and got the job done for us when we needed them.”
Did they ever.
Leah Weslock picked up her fourth foul with 5:40 left in the third quarter, forcing her out of the game for a long stretch before she returned and played the fourth quarter and all four overtimes.
Soon after, Amanda Corsten and Johnson picked up their fourth fouls.
“We were forced to go to a zone (defense),” Olszewski said. “That’s not something I don’t necessarily do, but we did it because of the foul trouble, and it saved us. The girls executed it well.”
Points were at a premium in this game. The game was tied at 33 after regulation after Howell had won the previous two meetings by comfortable margins.
“We never should have lost by eight and 11 the first two times we played them,” Brighton coach Paul Ash said. “We knew we were better than that.”
The Bulldogs scored first in each of the four overtimes, but the Highlanders found a way, and as the game went on, Miller took more of a key role.
She finished with 11 points after not scoring until the third quarter. She scored Howell’s last five points in the fourth overtime.
“I know I didn’t shoot the best from the line (7-for-14), but we knocked a couple down and that gave us the lead and we went from there.”
Ash, whose team finished 14-7, was pleased with his team’s performance in defeat.
“Tonight, I think, we played more like we were capable of playing,” he said. “They had their chances, we had our chances, it was just that kind of game. You have to take your hat off to a kid like Miller who made huge plays at the end of the game, and that’s what you’d expect from a three-year varsity player, to go out and make those kind of plays.”
In the nightcap, Hartland made plays from the beginning, rolling out to a 10-0 lead and not looking back.
Both teams watched the overtime periods, and Hartland’s Michelle Moraitis said her team was inspired.
“It got us pumped up with adrenalin, all that excitement,” she said. “It was exciting to watch, and I think it got us ready.”
Grayson Cockerham had 16 points, Lexey Tobel 14 and Emily Messner 11 for the Eagles (21-1). Rachel Waranauckas led the Cougars (7-14) with 12.