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Roach’s last-second runner gives No. 5 Hartland a road win over No. 17 Howell, and a leg up in the KLAA West race

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, February 7, 2020, 10:17 pm

HOWELL — Scorers score. Without giving it a second thought.

Without blinking an eye, Hartland sophomore Amanda Roach pulled up on the fly, and let loose a running jumper to put the Eagles ahead for good with 32 seconds left in Friday’s back-and-forth affair with Howell, gaining the upper hand in the KLAA West race with a 47-45 road win.

“It’s just so exciting for all of us,” said Roach, who led all scorers with 18 points. “We’ve worked hard — we had a great practice yesterday, and we just knew we could win. We just knew it.”

When the division’s three contenders — No. 17-ranked Howell, No. 5 Hartland and No. 13 Brighton — all dropped one game on the road in the first go-round, Hartland coach Don Palmer likened it to each of them holding serve in tennis. Nobody would get a leg up on the other two, until someone won in one of the other contenders’ buildings, until someone broke serve.

“Broke their serve by 4.9 seconds. I don’t think there’s a winner or loser in this game. Somebody just scored more points. The thrill of sports and tragedy of sports. They played well, they played hard, and they made us struggle, and we just had enough at the end. We couldn’t make layups, we couldn’t make free throws, we couldn’t guard. We’re very fortunate,” Palmer said after Friday’s win. 

“It was a great high school game, and you’re glad to win it, but if you lose it, they still have to go to Brighton, and Brighton has gotta come to us. There’s a ways to go. There’s no guarantee you’re going to win at home, but you’re comfortable there. As Jud (Heathcote, the former Michigan State men’s basketball coach) used to say, you’re a half-step quicker at home. …

“Fortunate win. Hard-fought win. We will take it, and run.”

The race certainly isn’t settled, though, and both teams know that.

Hartland (13-1, 9-1 KLAA West) still has to face Brighton (13-1, 9-1) at home (Feb. 18), while the Highlanders (11-3, 8-2) visit the Bulldogs on Tuesday. 

“What we talked about is, in all reality, none of our goals have been missed yet. None of them. Every goal we set out as a team is still attainable,” Howell coach Tim Olszewski said, acknowledging that there’s a possibility they’ll get Hartland two more times, in the KLAA tournament, and again in the MHSAA postseason. 

“Tonight, if you paid your money to come in and watch, it was definitely a great high school basketball game, and it could’ve gone either way. Up until the last call or no call, it could’ve gone either way.” 

Hartland pushed the pace early in Friday’s game, and got a flurry of 3-pointers from Roach to build an eight-point second-quarter lead, and nudge Howell out of its zone defense. 

“I’ve been hitting 3s lately,” Roach said. “I wanted them to go into a zone, so I could hit the 3s, and they just kept falling, I guess.”

The Highlanders climbed back in it by going 10 for 10 from the line in the second quarter — Kaylee Wendel was 8 for 8 — to get within three points at the half, down 27-24. 

There were three lead changes and two ties in the third quarter, the last of the latter coming when freshman Sophie Daugard beat the buzzer with a layup to knot it up at 38-38 headed to the fourth.

Maeve St. John’s two free throws with 4:56 left broke a 40-40 tie, then she added a pull-up jumper 36 seconds later to make it a four-point lead, 44-40. The Highlanders ground as much time off the clock as they could, but — after Emmy Sargeant split at the line with 1:28 left — Nikki Dompierre forced a key turnover with 1:08 left in a two-point game, giving Hartland life. 

“They started delaying, and you’re thinking ‘Well, we’ve gotta make a play without fouling.’ And we did that,” Palmer said. “It’s just one of those things that worked out for us, and the other times can be a nightmare — that’s basketball.”

Wendel split at the line with 40.9 left, making it 45-44, and the outlet pass hit Roach in stride, sending her streaking up the court for what would be the go-ahead bucket, making it 46-45 Hartland. 

“I just think that she had that Brighton game, and I think that instilled some confidence in her. All of the freshmen (from last year) are now sophomores, and they’ve all been struggling. I don’t know if it’s a sophomore jinx or whatever, but I think last year, they just played without a care. This year, we’re probably coaching them more — probably coaching them too much,” Palmer said. “She (Roach) is just a player, and a scorer, and I think she’s found her rhythm. She’s like Maeve, in regards to, there’s no conscience there. If you make a bad play, ‘OK, I’ll make a good play the next time.’ 

“Two types of players get you beat — those who do everything you say, and those who won’t do anything you say. You want to be somewhere in the middle. That’s where you want to be.”

Olszewski was actually relieved — seeing the degree of difficulty — that she was taking the shot, rather than slowing to call a timeout and set up a play. 

“You gotta tip your hat to Amanda, too. Right at the end of this game, she’s dribbling, full speed, and pulls up and just drains a shot. That’s just a great shot by a great kid and a great player,” the Howell coach said. 

“In all honesty, when you coach this game a lot, what she hit is not an easy shot. That is not an easy shot in the college level, the pros. She is full speed, pulls up, leaning and buries it. And I thought ‘Wow.’ Because I was happy she was shooting it, thinking ‘Oh, that’s such a miss.’ And it was nothing but net.”

The Highlanders got four cracks at the basket on their next possession, but could not convert. Whitney Sollom split at the line with 4.9 seconds left to make it a two-point game, and the Highlanders’ heave from just inside half court at the buzzer missed. 

“The kids are very upset about that, and I said ‘It is a game. Let’s not lose sight of that. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.’ We did. We had three shots right under the rim. It didn’t go in. What can you do about it? The girls tried. The ball rolled around. … The ball goes in, we win this game, and it’s a whole different story we’re talking about. We’re right there,” Olszewski said. “You look around the state, and you look at this league, and you’ve got us three teams, and they’ve been battles, every single one of them. I’m proud fo the kids, how hard they worked. Tip your hat to Hartland; there’s a reason they’re ranked where they are, but we obviously are in that caliber.”

St. John finished with 17 points for Howell, while Evelyn Pennala had 12 and Wendel 11.

Whitney Sollom had 10 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks for Hartland.