BRIGHTON — Don Palmer was able to joke after his Hartland girls basketball team escaped with a 39-37 win at Brighton on Thursday night.
“Just a walk in the park,” he said. “Everything’s good, you know?”
To get there, the Eagles, who shut Brighton out 11-0 after one quarter and led 15-4 at halftime, withstood a furious rally by the Bulldogs.
“We played very well for a long time, and I didn’t expect that kind of comeback,” Palmer said. “We won, and we’ll take it and we’ll get out of here.”
The loss ended Brighton’s hopes of claiming a piece of the KLAA Gold Division title, which Howell clinched when the Bulldogs lost.
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“We let the moment get to us a little bit, I think,” Brighton coach Paul Ash said. “We tried to keep the pressure off, but with young kids, and a big moment, sometimes that happens.”
The Bulldogs were also hampered by a combination of bad luck and good shooting by the Eagles, including a 3-pointer from 6-4 sophomore Whitney Sollom early in the third quarter.
But that was the last basket the Eagles would get as the Bulldogs turned up the pressure.
“We’re a team that needs to turn people over and run, and we weren’t doing either in the first half,” Ash said. “The second half, we got up and pressured their guard, and I think our guards to a pretty solid job trapping and pressing.”
The first half was a marked difference from the first meeting of the season between the teams, in which Brighton led 22-4 at halftime and shut down Sollom and senior Graysen Cockerham, who combined for just seven points that night.
Cockerham struggled again, with four points, and the Eagles were hurt when Sollom fouled out a little past the midpoint of the fourth quarter.
But Emily Messner added 10 points, and freshman Syd Caddell, who is exactly five feet tall, showed no fear in hitting a pair of free throws in the final seconds to help put the game out of reach.
“I always practice free throws,” she said. “That’s how a warm up. I was confident that I knew I knew how to make them. I was hoping to make one, and I knew we needed to make them to win.”
Meanwhile, sophomore Sophie Dziekan led the Brighton charge. The 6-0 center hit a pair of 3s of her own en route to a game-high 17 points. She hit a basket at the buzzer for the final score of the night.
“She can shoot it,” Ash said. “I wish she’d practice it more. We tell the kids if you’re going to take a shot in the game, you’ve got to practice it so you’re comfortable with it. When she does, I don’t care who goes out (to defend), she’s got a quick first step and can blow past any big kid, including Sollom. I wouldn’t trade my big for anyone’s big, and I’ll say that for two more years.”
The game was moved up a day due to concerns about a snowstorm forecast for Friday.
“I think it was good by both school districts,” Palmer said. “For our sake, and for Brighton’s sake, I thought it was important we play tonight.”
Both teams are now 11-4 overall, 8-3 in the KLAA going into Tuesday’s season finales. Hartland is at Novi, while Brighton travels to Howell.
It was the Eagles’ sixth win in a row, and while there were some anxious moments, Messner was happy to get the W.
“If’s it’s one point, two points or 15, it’s always a win and it’s good to have one,” she said.