HOWELL — The Howell girls basketball team celebrated, a little, after a bruising 42-37 overtime win over Hartland on Friday.
And why not? The win gave them the Lakes Conference title for the first time in six years and a share of the KLAA title.
“We haven’t done much the past few years,” senior Erin Honkala said, “and it’s nice to come back.”
The Highlanders (17-2) did it with grit and patience in a game where both teams struggled to score, especially in the first half.
Hartland (15-4) came back from five points down with less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter, sending the game to overtime on a 3-pointer by Michelle Moraitis with eight seconds remaining.
But Paige Johnson buried a 3-pointer to start the overtime and the Highlanders scored the first seven points of the extra session en route to the victory. Leah Weslock, who sank all four of her free throws in overtime, finished with a team-high 18 points and added eight rebounds, four in overtime.
The first half, though, was ugly. A combination of tenacious defense and ice-cold shooting kind of ugly.
“I think it was a little bit of both,” Howell’s Lexie Miller said, “but mostly cold shooting. We had open looks, but we weren’t shooting when we needed to. I know I could have shot more open shots.”
After two quarters, Hartland led 12-10.
Both teams made adjustments at the half. Howell, which was hampered by double- and triple-teams on Honkala, struggled in the first half. But Weslock had consecutive 3s early in the third quarter, which stretched Hartland’s zone and gave the Highlanders more chances to score.
But Hartland went all-in on trying to blanket Honkala, putting first Ariana Knasiak, then Emily Messner on her. It mostly worked, but at a price: Both Eagles fouled out trying to defend Honkala.
Howell, meanwhile, mostly contained Hartland’s Graysen Cockerham, who had six points, all on free throws. She rarely had the opportunity to drive to the basket or room to shoot from long range.
But Lexey Tobel, who scored just five points in the first half, had 14 after intermission.
Meanwhile, Weslock, who sat out much of the first half with two fouls, had 16 of her 18 points in the second half.
Howell led 30-25 when Cockerham hit a pair of free throws late in the fourth quarter. After a Hartland defensive stop, the Eagles had the ball in their end, trying to get up a shot before the buzzer.
The ball found its way to Moraitis’ hands.
“I just kind of threw it up there,” she said. “I found myself open and I took it.”
Johnson then gave the Highlanders a 33-30 lead with her 3-pointer, and Howell went 9-for-12 at the free-throw line to salt the win away.
“You know, we’re knocking on the door and we can’t seem to break through,” Hartland coach Don Palmer said. “This type of game, you say, ‘What if? What if? What if?’ That’s basketball, and you don’t have any recourse. You either practice and play hard the next time, or you pack it in. That was the message we sent: You go and play again.”
And they will, at Hartland at 7 p.m. Monday in a state tournament game.
As the Highlanders cut down the net, they did so knowing the Eagles will be waiting, this time with the loser going home for the season.
“We can enjoy the victory for 24 hours,” Miller said. “But then we have to get our heads together and try to beat them a fourth time. We can do it.”