Howell — Hartland and Howell have developed a great rivalry in girls basketball over the past few years.
So it came to no surprise that the Class A district semifinal between the teams wasn’t decided until Alexis Miller missed a 3-pointer as time expired, resulting in Hartland’s 40-37 victory Wednesday night.
Hartland handed Howell’s its lone four losses last season after Howell did the same to Hartland the previous season. This season, the teams split the previous two games it met.
Hartland (17-5) moves on to a district final Friday night against South Lyon East, while Howell’s season ends at 17-4.
Emily Messner, a 6-foot senior center who is headed for the Army this summer, showed she would be a factor from the start, grabbing six first-quarter rebounds. Messner finished with a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds), scoring the majority of her baskets off of putbacks. She made big play after big play during the fourth quarter to make sure Hartland would move on.
“This is the team that we love to play, every year we say we’re going to beat Howell and it feels so exciting that I can’t even explain the high it feels to beat that team to go on in districts,” said Messner, who was able to stay on the court despite picking up her fourth foul with 4:06 left.
“That’s the type of game you play the sport for. You play basketball because you don’t want to blow out teams, nobody wants to do that, you want to have those competitive games and I give credit to Howell because they are such an amazing team, but I give more credit to us because we just beat them.”
After Howell missed a 3-pointer that would have pulled it even, Messner scored inside at the other end off a pass from Graysen Cockerham for a 35-30 cushion with 5:20 left.
Howell had a chance to pull even again in the final minute, but Cockerham made a steal to prevent a basket, then found Messner at the other end for a lay-up and 38-34 lead with 30 seconds left.
“It was all Graysen,” Messner said of Cockerham, who had nine points and six rebounds. “I give all the credit to my teammates. I have never had such great teammates. She gave me the ball and I scored, but I feel that’s her two points.”
Whitney Sollom, a 6-4 sophomore who has multiple Big Ten offers, also had a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) for Hartland, making two free throws with 9.1 seconds left after Messner grabbed an offensive rebound after a teammate missed the front end of a 1-1.
Sollom made another huge play just prior to halftime. Hartland had the ball sideline left with 0.5 seconds left. Sollom received the pass, turned and tossed in a 25-footer off the backboard and through the net for a 21-11 halftime lead.
Miller, a senior guard, scored 18 for Howell, making 11-of-18 free throws. Senior forward Leah Weslock was limited to four points on 1-of-13 shooting.
Howell battled back from its double-digit deficit by forcing turnovers out of its fullcourt pressure, but Hartland converted just enough free throws (3-of-6) during the fourth quarter.
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Detroit News staff contributed.