HOWELL — It was the season opener, but it looked like a KLAA West midseason game at Howell on Tuesday.
Plenty of 3-pointers, free throws, bodies hitting the floor and Paige Johnson with a postgame icepack after Howell’s 47-36 win.
This time it was on her head, thanks to the first of two collisions with the hardwood, one that coach Tim Olszewski colorfully described as being “as big as Mount Rushmore.”
There was no concussion, prompting Olszewski’s joking pronouncement.
“She’s as tough as nails,” Olszewski said. “She’ll put her nose into any scuffle. Her toughness is unparalleled.”
All this in a game the Highlanders led 26-15 at halftime, then saw the Redwings close to within two, 34-32, early in the fourth quarter before Howell put the game away down the stretch.
“We came together in the fourth quarter and we owned the fourth quarter,” junior Leah Weslock said.
“It was good to have the win,” Olszewski said. “But it was, at times, ugly. It’s OK. I’d rather have the win. We’re going to grow from this, improve on it and get ready for Friday.”
St. Johns reached the Class A semifinals last year, while Howell was ousted on a buzzer-beater in the regional finals.
But the Highlanders were lifted by Lexie Miller, who had 15 of her team-high 17 points in the first half, and by Weslock,who had 15 points thanks in large part to an 11-of-13 performance at the free throw line. Johnson added six points, all at the line in the fourth quarter.
Olszewski took over a team that was raw last season and guided it to a 20-3 record, and that experience, he said, paid off on Tuesday.
“I told the girls afterward that some of the situations we were in last year helped us tonight,” Olszewski said. “WE didn’t panic. We didn’t throw the ball away. Lexie showed great leadership. Paige hit big free throws and Leah hit big free throws.
“They’re a very good team,” Olszewski said of St. Johns. “They execute well. They don’t do anything wrong. It was a good battle.”