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Amanda Roach’s last-second free throws clinch KLAA championship, as No. 5 Hartland beats No. 9 Brighton

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, February 27, 2020, 10:47 pm

HARTLAND — Everyone needs a second chance now and again. 

Amanda Roach got one, and made the most of it.

Her two free throws with 2.2 seconds left were the margin of victory, as No. 5 Hartland edged No. 9 Brighton, 32-30, to win Thursday’s Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship game.

“This still doesn’t feel real. I can’t believe this. We just pulled it out,” said the sophomore, who had missed the front end of a one-and-one with 4.8 seconds left, but jammed herself between two Brighton rebounders, and was fouled again, sending her back to the line.

“I truly believed I was going to make it, because that was my second chance. You don’t get second chances in the game, and I got one, so I knew I had to make it.”

She did, sending the bench for the Eagles (19-1) into happy hysterics.

Brighton (17-3) got the ball inbounded, called a timeout to set up a last play, and got a half-court shot off at the buzzer, but it fell short.

“I find it very stressful, but with a good ending. Had we lost, I was kind of prepared to say we didn’t deserve to win, but it’s kind of like the old Jud Heathcote line: ‘We tried to lose, but ran out of time,’” said Hartland coach Don Palmer, whose team had gone six minutes of game time in the second half without scoring, and put up just three points in the third quarter, watching a 13-point halftime lead evaporate, before finding a way to rally. 

“I think that’s always something to take to the bank. I’m just concerned — we’ve gotta play better in the second half. This is the second time we’ve kind of collapsed. It’s like the pressure got to us. Give Brighton credit — they didn’t have any strategy, just come after us. You gotta make some plays, and these kids have been around forever, and we’ll work on it tomorrow.” 

The Eagles last won a KLAA title in 2016-17. 

[For a full photo gallery from Thursday’s game, CLICK HERE.]

This one was by the barest of margins, just like the last meeting, on Feb. 18, when Madi Moyer hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. A total of seven points — between the final two meetings against Brighton, and their road win at Howell — were what separated the Eagles from not having Thursday’s celebration. 

“I think that we’ve been fortunate maybe, these two Brighton games we could’ve lost, should’ve lost, maybe, the game at Howell we could’ve lost. You can’t to that well very often, so we’ve just gotta kind of take care of that problem,” Palmer said. “This is a veteran crew. But I do think they’re feeling the pressure — we’re ranked, and all that stuff, and she (Whitney Sollom) is a Miss Basketball candidate … It is what it is. Sometimes it’s a lot to put on a kid, especially with social media and all this.”

Brighton won the first meeting at home, 41-33, making Thursday’s game the rubber match, but a fourth meeting would take a deep run by both squads, as they’re in separate districts. If they do indeed meet for a fourth time this season, it won’t be until the Division 1 semifinals at the Breslin Center — the Eagles go east, while the Bulldogs go south in the bracket. 

“These are just the best games. Madi had that great play at the end of the second time we played them, and it was just a great feeling at the end,” Roach said. “This gives us a really big confidence boost.”

The Eagles held Brighton without a field goal in the first half, building a 7-2 lead after the first quarter, and stretching it to 18-5 at halftime. But Brighton outscored Hartland 21-3 in the third quarter — the lone bucket a three-point play by Roach with 3:04 left in the third — to roar all the way back. An 11-0 run — helped by two huge 3s by Elaine Halonen — that gave the Bulldogs a 24-21 lead going to the fourth stretched out to 15-0 before the Eagles finally answered.

“I think we just got too nervous,” Roach said. “The last time we played them, we were up big, and I think it was just in our head, and it just stuck in our head that we couldn’t play offense in the third quarter, because that’s what happened last game. I think it was just in our head.”

Roach hit a free throw with 5:01 left to break the Eagles’ scoring drought, then added a 3-pointer with 4:15 left to cut the deficit back to three, 28-25, with 4:15 left. 

Roach found Lillee Gustafson for a layup with 3:12 to tie it up at 28-28, then put the Eagles up with one of her own with 1:38 left. Just seven seconds later, though, Sydney Hetherton was fouled on the break, and nailed two free throws to knot it back up, at 30-30.

The Eagles had a pair of cracks at the basket to take the lead in the final 55 seconds, but could not connect, but Roach managed to swipe away a pass from the Bulldogs on the other end to keep them from nailing their own game-winner, and was fouled before she could head upcourt. 

“I just read the offense, and they were going to pass it,” Roach said. “That’s what coach Palmer told us to do, read the offense, and see what they were going to do. So that’s what I did.”

The foul that stopped her was Brighton’s ninth, putting her at the line for one-and-one with 4.8 seconds left, but she hit side iron, and the carom headed toward the Hartland bench, between two Brighton players. Roach knifed in, and swiped the ball again, intercepting a pass between the two, and was fouled, going to the line again with 2.2 seconds left.

“I just think — there was no strategy: We had to go and chase and double and go for steals. It’s one thing to know what you’ve gotta do. It’s another thing to do it. We made some plays when we had to make them. They say football’s a game of inches — this is a game of seconds,” Palmer said, noting Roach’s game-winning basket in the road win over Howell. “She has a knack of making plays. … I always describe Amanda (as) she doesn’t really have a conscience. If she takes a bad shot, and misses it, her personality is ‘I’ll just make it the next time.’ So, she missed that one free throw, and came right back and made the next two. It’s good when you can put mistakes behind you that quickly.”

Roach had 14 to lead Hartland, while Moyer had four points and nine rebounds, and Nikki Dompierre added six points. Hetherton led Brighton with 10 points, while Halonen had eight and Sophie Dziekan seven.