HARTLAND — There wasn’t much that didn’t go right for the Howell girls basketball team on Friday night.
Take Paige Johnson, for example.
Twice she managed to wrest the ball from a Brighton player, and both times got it to a teammate, once while lying on her back.
Was it instinct? she was asked. Did she recognize her teammate’s socks?
She laughed. “I don’t know,” she said. “You just have to find your teammates.”
Which the Highlanders did, taking a 13-0 lead after the first quarter and rolling to a 43-16 triumph in a Class A district final at Hartland High School.
The Highlanders (20-2), off to their best start in 20 seasons, will take on Farmington Hills Mercy on Tuesday at Novi in a Class A regional.
Brighton coach Paul Ash knew his team had to play well to win,.
“We felt if we shot a decent percentage we could hang with them,” he said. “But when you don’t shoot well … (Howell) is a very good team. Make no mistake.”
Brighton got within striking distance, 15-6, in the second quarter on a pair of 3-pointers by Dana Schmanske. But the Highlanders built the lead to 15, 25-10 at halftime and were never seriously challenged after that.
“At that point, you have to chip away and try to get it to single digits by the end of the third quarter, but we didn’t get it done,” Ash said.
Part of that was due to ice-cold shooting, but a lot was also due to a stifling Howell defense that kept center Beth Dziekan bottled up and dared Brighton to shoot from the outside.
“We came out on fire,” Howell senior Erin Honkala said. “We knew we had to come out with high energy and do what we do, which is play defense.”
Honkala and Amanda Corsten sparked the Highlanders’ run in the first quarter with a pair of lay-ups apiece when Howell was executing its fast break.
“People don’t think we can run,” Johnson said. “But we had a lot of energy coming in. We wanted to win. We needed this.”
“They were really determined,” Howell coach Tim Olszewski said. “It was all business. There wasn’t a lot of goofing around or horseplay the last couple of days. They were very focused on what they wanted to accomplish, and I think that carried over on the court.”
Honkala, who was on the Howell team that won a district two years ago, savored winning as a senior.
“It feels a little different,” she said, smiling broadly. “It feels kind of nice.”
Johnson, a sophomore, didn’t hide her excitement.
“It’s amazing,” she said of winning the district. “(Olszewski) says it’s not always going to be fun, and it’s not, but this is why we work so hard in practice. We’re ready to get back into the gym and work hard.”