HARTLAND — You couldn’t blame Hartland’s girls basketball team for worrying about deja vu early in Tuesday’s game with Howell.
The Highlanders scored the first four points of the game, and looked as if they were going to take it to the Eagles again, as they did four times last season.
“I think we were so nervous in the beginning,” Hartland’s Lexey Tobel said. “We were almost still, like we couldn’t bring ourselves to think this was another basketball game, another year. We needed to come out there and play like ourselves, and once we did, it started to come.”
Tobel was right about that. The Eagles scored the last 12 points of the quarter and never looked back in a 48-28 victory that gave them sole possession of first place in the KLAA West.
“I wouldn’t say it was a must-win, but it’s as close to a must-win as you’re going to get,” Hartland coach Don Palmer said. “You know, we’re going to play this team three, maybe four times. You’ve got to win at home, and we haven’t been able to do that at home the last several years, whether it be Howell or Brighton.”
For Howell, it was the Highlanders’ first loss of the season in a contest where things went south and snowballed from there.
“We ran two (offensive) sets early in the game, and they both worked,” Howell coach Tim Olszewski said. “I’m not so sure we were able to run another set completely. We started deviating and breaking from what we’re trying to do, and all of a sudden you miss one or two shots and they hit one or two. Suddenly it’s a 10-point game and everyone starts pressing. Everyone gets stressed out and nervous, and it was a slippery slope for us.”
Hartland’s defense had a hand in that. The Eagles held Howell point guard Lexie Miller, the team’s leading scorer, to just one basket, a 3-pointer in the third period. Michelle Moraitis, Hartland’s best defender, stuck to Miller most of the evening.
“We felt that with Michelle on her, I’m not saying she would stop her, but she would neutralize her,” Palmer said.
It was Hartland’s first win over Howell in nearly two years, and the relief was palpable.
“We told ourselves we would not lose to them five times in a row,” junior Greyson Cockerham said.
The teams are scheduled to play in Howell on Feb. 7, and could meet in the Lakes Conference tournament and in the district tournament.
“We’ve got to go back to the lab, I guess,” Howell’s Paige Johnson said. “Watch the film and see what we can do better. Get our rotations down and trust each other. We had some problems in this game with not trusting each other completely.”
Leah Weslock led Howell (8-1 overall, 3-1 KLAA West) with 13 points, while Johnson added 10. Tobel had a game-high 18 for the Eagles (9-1, 4-0), with Moraitis adding nine.
“The message in the locker room was you won a game, but no championships,” Palmer said. “If you lay an egg in Grand Blanc (Friday), then all this is for naught, so you have to go to the next one. … Howell, once they got that (division) lead last year, they never looked back and won those championships. I don’t know if it’s in the cards fo us this year, but that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
“Hartland’s a very good team,” Olszewski said. “We did not lose to a second-rate team. … Last year, we had a game early where we had to learn from it, and I wouldn’t trade my girls for the world. They’re a great group, and I have every confidence in the world that they’re going to respond.”