HARTLAND — Before the game, the Howell girls basketball team wore T-shirts with “1-4” on the front.
It wasn’t their record, as some asked, but it stood for Jan. 4, the day after the Highlanders’ loss to DeWitt. The shirts were meant to remind the players of a renewed focus.
But, on Tuesday night, the same things that had gotten Howell some big wins helped them push past a determined and more-than-game Hartland team, 48-42 in overtime at Hartland High School.
“I thought our girls got some key rebounds that gave us some great second-chance opportunities, and at the end, some great defensive rebounds that only let them get one shot,” Howell coach Tim Olszewski said.
Lexie Miller had 21 points, and put the game out of reach with another Howell specialty — free throws. She hit seven of eight attempts in overtime, and was 13-for-16 on the game.
Miller was surprised to hear of her performance at the line afterward, but had a ready answer.
“Thank goodness,” she said, chuckling. “You gotta do your job. Our coach says you win games with free throws, and when it comes down to the end of games, they’re big.”
“Lexie kind of lives for those moments,” Olszewski said. “She loves the pressure and being in those situations, and we gladly give her the ball for them.”
But a stalwart Hartland defense and the 3-point shooting of Nikki Dompierre, whose 15 points came on five 3s, kept the Eagles in the game.
In the end, however, the Eagles couldn’t overcome their struggles at the free throw line, especially Dompierre, who was 0-for-7.
But Graysen Cockerham, the Hartland senior who has played in over a dozen games between the teams in her career, was nonplussed by her team’s struggles.
“The No. 1 thing Howell did that we didn’t was finish and make free throws down the stretch,” she said. “That probably would have given us the lead, but it’s something that can easily be fixed, so I’m not worried about that.”
Hartland coach Don Palmer didn’t see the finish. After drawing a technical foul in the first half, which by rule forces a coach to sit rather than stand for the rest of the game, Palmer was caught standing one too many times in overtime and picked up a second technical and an ejection.
“That was the second time in about 60 seasons,” said Palmer, who coached boys and girls basketball at Milford for decades when the girls season was in the fall. “I was struggling with being ejected, but I deserved it, and I was gone.”
Palmer will be banished for Thursday’s game with Livonia Stevenson, a contest that has been moved to Thursday due to concerns with a forecast snowstorm on Friday.
It’s too early to say if the Highlanders and Eagles will play another four times this season, but Cockerham says her team will be ready.
“Having to play each other four times a season definitely gives each other a lot of respect,” she said. “We knew they were going to fight, they knew we were going to fight, and that’s exactly what happened.”