Halfway home: Howell beats Brighton, leads KLAA West girls basketball at midway point

·4 min read

BRIGHTON — While its two biggest girls basketball rivals were garnering statewide attention early in the season, Howell was just trying to become relevant again.

Howell's Maeve St. John had 18 points and was 8-for-8 from the line in the fourth quarter of a 54-45 victory over Brighton on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Howell's Maeve St. John had 18 points and was 8-for-8 from the line in the fourth quarter of a 54-45 victory over Brighton on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.

The Highlanders were flying well below the radar entering KLAA West play, having gone 1-3 while playing a tough nonleague schedule.

But with the first round of division games in the books, Howell sits alone on top of the KLAA West with a 7-0 record after winning 54-45 Friday night at Brighton.

The Highlanders have knocked off their three closest pursuers in their last four games, beating Hartland, Northville and Brighton.

Trailing Howell in the standings are Hartland at 6-1, Northville at 5-2 and Brighton at 4-3.

In a reversal of fortune from the early part of the season, Howell will be the team with the large target on its back when the second half of division play begins Tuesday.

“I’d rather have it that way,” Howell coach Tim Olszewski said. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, be the underdog.’ That’s fine, but I’d rather have the target and I’d rather people play their best game. That’s what we talked about; every team from here on out is going to give us their best game.”

There wasn’t much shame being 1-3 against the teams Howell faced in nonleague play.

Howell's Amelia Storm (10) has a shot contested by Brighton's Sarah Ebel (left) and Mary Copple (3) during the Highlanders' 54-45 victory on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Howell's Amelia Storm (10) has a shot contested by Brighton's Sarah Ebel (left) and Mary Copple (3) during the Highlanders' 54-45 victory on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.

They opened the season with a 60-50 loss to No. 1-ranked Midland Dow, blew out a quality Division 3 Erie Mason team, then lost to Williamston and Birmingham Marian teams that received honorable mention in The Associated Press state rankings.

“At that point in the year, every single time it was just holding each other accountable,” Howell senior Maeve St. John said. “We felt the losses were kind of our fault. We would be the ones making the mistakes, not the other teams necessarily beating us.”

Howell made a statement with a 37-31 victory over then-No. 2 Hartland on Jan. 11 and hasn’t let up.

The Highlanders jumped out to a 17-4 lead against Brighton, which never got closer than five points the rest of the way.

The Bulldogs regrouped to get within 21-16 late in the first half, but Howell scored the final seven points of the half.

Trailing 42-28 with six minutes left, Brighton battled back to within 46-40 on a 3-pointer by Sarah Ebel with less than three minutes remaining. The Bulldogs missed two 3-pointers that would’ve cut the lead to three with two minutes to go.

Brighton's Mary Copple drives through the lane while defended by Caitlyn Rayl (0) for two of her team-high 15 points in a 54-45 loss to Howell on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Brighton's Mary Copple drives through the lane while defended by Caitlyn Rayl (0) for two of her team-high 15 points in a 54-45 loss to Howell on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.

“Against a good team with good guards, you’re not gonna make that up,” Brighton coach Paul Ash said. “We got it back to five and they’d make some free throws or make a three. You can’t get in a 10-point hole against a team of that caliber. We talked about it after the game; we have to learn to play with desperation for 32 minutes, because we were in that situation. We had to have that game tonight.”

Brighton was unable to close the gap because Howell made 15 consecutive free throws after missing its first shot from the line during the fourth quarter. The Highlanders were 22-for-25 from the line, with St. John going 8-for-8 in the fourth quarter.

“Hitting the free throws at that particular time is just an extension of how hard they work in practice and the drills they work on,” Olszewski said. “We missed some in some of the earlier games. We felt we let some games slip away early, but we played great competition.”

Howell's Caitlyn Rayl (left) and Brighton's Jessica Andrew battle for a loose ball during the Highlanders' 54-45 victory on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Howell's Caitlyn Rayl (left) and Brighton's Jessica Andrew battle for a loose ball during the Highlanders' 54-45 victory on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.

St. John had 18 points, five assists and five rebounds; Sophie Daugard had 14 points, six rebounds and four steals; Molly Deurloo had 12 points and eight rebounds; and Amelia Storm had seven points and seven rebounds for Howell.

Mary Copple had 15 points and three steals, Ebel had 13 points, and Payton VanDeven had nine points off the bench for Brighton.

“We’ve got a ton to play for,” Ash said. “We might not be able to win the division, but we sure have a say in who does. That’s part of the fun of basketball; you keep playing hard. We’ve got a lot to play for, to get ready for. We’ve got crossover games to get ready for and then we’ve got a district to go win and hopefully get into a regional and see what happens.

“There’s a ton of basketball still on the plate. The kids are a little disappointed. We’re usually in the division fight right ‘til the end; this year, we’re not. We had to win this game.”

For St. John, it was her first victory in Brighton's gym. The Highlanders were 0-3 at Brighton since winning 48-31 on Jan. 19, 2018.

"They're just always ready, they've always got a good scheme," St. John said. "You saw them defensively. They're up, they're pressuring, they cause a lot of turnovers. They're just a great defensive team. They run their offense, their sets well. They're a good team."

Contact Bill Khan at wkhan@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan.

This article originally appeared on Livingston Daily: Howell beats Brighton, leads KLAA West girls basketball at midseason

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