SOUTHFIELD — Graysen Cockerham tried to smile through her tears Tuesday night, her career ending on a layup at the buzzer in Hartland’s 54-44 loss to Wayne in a Class A quarterfinal.
“It hurts right now,” she said. “But this is a really special thing we were able to do, so I have no reason to hang my head.”
The Eagles had won 14 of their previous 15 games, the only loss being to Wayne in the KLAA semifinals, after a home loss to Brighton that left them at 6-4 and had coach Don Palmer wondering if his team’s season wasn’t lost.
“I had nothing to do with the comeback,” he said. “The seniors brought them back. Give them credit for that.”
Give credit to Wayne, too, for using its overall height advantage and quickness to rapidly turn Hartland miscues, and rebounding woes, into points.
“We maybe turned the ball over a little too much, but mainly I thoguht it was rebounding, rebounding, rebounding,” Palmer said. “They rebounded their misses. They rebounded their missed free throws. A team that athletic and talented, you can’t give them that many possessions. We felt going in that we might not improve on turnovers, but we had to improve on rebounding, and we did not.”
And, senior Emily Messner said, the Zebras were adept at getting into position in any way possible.
“I’m not going to accuse them of being dirty,” she said, “but they got the good pushes, and we needed to push back, but we fell under their pressure.”
Messner was not among them. Her hard foul on Jayah Hicks in the fourth quarter and the resulting shove from Hicks earned Messner a foul and Hicks a technical.
“I never want to hurt anyone,” Messner said. “I think she might have got mad because I hit her real hard, but I didn’t want her to get the shot.”
Hartland never led in the game, but played Wayne close in the first quarter before the Zebras pulled out to a 29-20 lead at halftime. Wayne got it to 10 before the Eagles made their last push, getting with three on Hartland’s only 3-pointer of the game from, of all people, 6-4 Whitney Sollom.
“I’ve been practicing,” she said. “I was excited when it went in.”
But the Eagles couldn’t get any closer.
Sollom had a game-high 22 points, while Cockerham’s 12 wrapped up a career that saw her become the only Hartland player to be on two regional championship teams.
Camree Clegg had 18 points and Janae Terry 17 for Wayne (22-4), which will take on unbeaten East Lansing in Friday’s semifinal at Calvin College.
“Clegg was Clegg, but Terry was very good, and we needed one of those kids to have an off night,” Palmer said. “We didn’t think it would be Clegg. We were hoping for Terry, but we didn’t get that, either.”
The Eagles lose two starters in Cockerham and Messner, but return three sophomores and two freshmen who saw extended playing time and have a JV team that had a stellar season.
“We played a lot of young kids tonight and a good class (is) coming in,” Palmer said. “It doesn’t come down to how much talent you have, but how you mesh. This team meshed pretty well.”
“We fought to the finish,” Cockerham said. “Nobody thought we would be where we are. I know it’s hard, but we don’t have any reason to hang our heads.”