Howell wins West girls showdown, 46-35, can clinch Friday

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HARTLAND — The Hartland girls basketball team had a solid game plan on Tuesday.

The Eagles were willing to allow Howell senior Erin Honkala her share of points. They aosl assigned junior Michelle Moraitis to the best ball handler on the floor, generally Lexie Miller, and Moraitis would stick to that player no matter where they went.

Unfortunately for Hartland, Howell sophomore forward Leah Weslock stepped up. She ran the team from the point on occasion and driving the left side of the lane early and often, scoring a game-high 19 points as the Highlanders took over sole possession of first place in the KLAA West with a 46-35 victory.

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“I don’t know the kid’s game that well,” Hartland coach Don Palmer said, speaking of Weslock. “But the idea that she would play the point a little bit gave them a lot of options with ball-handling. They play well, they’re coached well, their guards are super, and there’s a lot of them.”

Asked if it was a career high, Weslock gave an answer that makes coaches swoon.

“I think so?” she said, clearly not knowing for sure.

No matter. Once she forced the Hartland defense to stretch out a little bit, that left room for Honkala to operate.

“It helps us run a lot more,” Honkala said of Weslock’s growing contribution to the offense. “She knows what she’s doing out there now, and that helps. She’s getting amazing.”

Playing the second half with three fouls, Honkala scored 11 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter as the Highlanders broke a 25-25 tie and won comfortably.

“I think we were all playing more together, honestly,” she said. “We all went off on our own a little bit, but we pulled together.”

“They came out with more intensity than us,” Hartland’s Lexey Tobel said. “They won the quarter and the game.”

For the Eagles, the problem, ultimately, is one that has bothered them most of the season. Tobel and Greysen Cockerham (10 points) combined for 27 points; the rest of the team had eight.

“I thought they played hard and tough,” Palmer said of Howell, “and we just played hard. We are young, but they are, too, so you have to go back to the drawing board and try to get better.”

The teams will meet in the first round of the state tournament on Feb. 29 and possibly again in the KLAA tournament later next week or the week after.

Hartland (12-3, 7-2 KLAA West) plays host to Grand Blanc, which is winless in the division, on Friday. Howell can wrap up its first division title since 2009-2010 on Friday at home against Brighton.

“Time to put in some more hard work,” said Honkala, wearing a bag of ice on her right shoulder while smiling brightly.