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Hartland holds off Walled Lake Western to win third regional crown in five seasons

Hartland holds off Walled Lake Western to win third regional crown in five seasons
BY: MATTHEW B. MOWERY Mar 13, 10:00pm

WHITE  LAKE — If you knock on the door, and don’t get in, keep knocking.

The Hartland Eagles kept shooting until they got shots to fall, loosening up the defense, and kept rebounding until they wore down a smaller Walled Lake Western squad, pulling away in the end of Wednesday’s Division 1 regional championship game to win, 50-46.

“It’s still the best feeling in the world, honestly. Coming into the season, we were young, so we didn’t really know what to expect, but I personally thought we could go as far as we did last year, if not farther,” said junior forward Madi Moyer. “And I think that’s our goal for right now.”

The win sends the Eagles (22-3) on to the quarterfinals for the third time in five seasons, where they’ll continue to try knocking on the door, trying to break through to the semis.

“We’re excited. It’s knocking on the door,” Hartland coach Don Palmer said. “We play the defending state champ next week, but you’ve gotta knock down that door sometime.”

They’ll meet the reigning Class A champion, Saginaw Heritage (22-2), at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, at Grand Blanc High School. The two teams met previously on Dec. 11, a 55-35 win by the Hawks, but Hartland was missing junior center Whitney Sollom, still recuperating from knee surgery, and it was just Game 3 of the high school careers of the solid freshman class that has helped the Eagles pick up right where they left off last year.

Reinserting the 6-foot-4 Whitney Sollom back into the starting lineup meant an adjustment for the rest of the team, trying to fit into new roles. But once they’ve begun to mesh late in the season, it’s gotten much smoother, and their big in the middle has been the double-double (and triple-double) machine she can be, racking them up with regularity.

That also meant that a smaller Western (23-2) squad wanted to pack it down low in on defense, trying to avoid being ousted in the regional finals for a third straight season, and for a second consecutive season by Hartland.

“I feel like when Whitney first came back, it was kind of choppy. We didn’t really know how to work as a team, but I think we’ve definitely got that now. We can mesh all of our skills together, and just come out with good teamwork,” Moyer said. “I think they know that they don’t really have anyone to guard Whitney, so they have to come as a team, to stop her, so we can get our outside shots, which we weren’t hitting.”

Western was daring the Eagles to hit from the outside, and for much of the first half, they weren’t.

“Well, as we’ve been going lately, I’m not completely comfortable with it, because we haven’t been shooting well, but your kids have gotta fire it. They’ve just gotta fire it,” Palmer said. “These are good shooters, but they just haven’t been good shooters lately. We did say that we had to get Whitney more touches late in the game, but that worked out that way. We’re just kind of in a funk right now with that, but you’ve gotta shoot them.”

The biggest 3 might have come from freshman Lauren Sollom late in the first half, stopping a 10-0 run that put the Warriors up 21-16. Amanda Roach followed it with a steal and a layup to tie it up 21-21 at the break.

“It seemed like we hit a couple of big shots when maybe we were in danger of going down five or six,” Palmer said.

But the Warriors kept hitting them, too.

Lia Krawiec hit a pair of 3s to start the second half, allowing Western to push the lead back to four, and it would go into the fourth with Western up 35-32.

The junior combined with Olivia Warren to hit nine 3-pointers on the game, picking up the scoring slack for Western.

“We handled the press a little better than I thought we would, but their 3-ball kind of neutralized that. We didn’t turn it over a lot on the press, and that was big for us. … But 3-ball shooting, when you make them, it can be just a game-wrecker,” Palmer said. “Tonight, the defense, we were trying to cover the 3, but they’re excellently coached, and they make the extra pass, and we’re there and then we’re not there, and the shot went in. It was a nightmare.”

The Warriors kept the defense packed in until the fourth, when they had to extend it out to try to slow down the Eagles. When they did that, the taller Hartland squad was able to begin to pound the boards.

“We had to, until late. And then when we came back with the press, it hurt us on the boards. Six of one, half dozen of the other,” Western coach Steve Emert said. “The press, all year long, has been our bread and butter. But it’ll be our bread and butter again next year, too.”

The biggest might have been a four-shot possession which finished with Moyer putting the ball back for a three-point play opportunity with 1:58 left, giving the Eagles a 46-41 lead. Moyer finished with 10 rebounds, while Whitney Sollom — who had her own putback for a three-point play opportunity 53 seconds later — had 18 boards to go along with five big blocks.

“Whitney has a height advantage, and she’s such an athlete, but Madi Moyer jumps,” Palmer said. “She gets rebounds you don’t think she’s gonna get.”

Krawiec split a pair of free throws with 42.3 seconds left to make it a five-point game, 48-43, then after Nikki Dompierre — who led all scorers with 26 points — split a pair at the line with 26 seconds left — nailed a 3 with 6.1 left to make it a three-point deficit, 49-46. Roach split a pair at the line with 3.7 left, making it a two-possession game, and all but sealing it up.

“It was kind of a game of runs for both teams. I thought we had them, and all of a sudden, we’ve gotta make a free throw to win it,” Palmer said. “It was just a great high school basketball game. Two great teams, and if we would’ve lost this game, there’s not much I could say to my kids that would be derogatory. They played hard, and Western played hard. It’s high school sports, basketball at its best. It’s how it should be.”

Krawiec had 17 to lead Western, while Warren had 16. Both are juniors, and will return next season.

“They’re back. That’s what I like about it. A lot of people said last year, ‘What are you going to do without (Janara) Flowers and (Jordan) Walczyk?’ I said, ‘We’ll be fine.’ Now they’re asking me ‘What’re you going to do without (Sarah) Rachiele and (Kailee) Ford?’ We’ll be fine. It (the program) is running in the right direction,” said Emert, who has been battling against Palmer for decades, dating back to his own days at Walled Lake Central, and Palmer’s at Milford.

“I respect everything he does. Ever since I was at Walled Lake Central, and he was at Milford, they were wars. The games were absolute wars. But that’s the fun of coaching. Did I want this one more than normal, because it was Don? Oh, yeah. He would probably say the same. If, as a coach, I want somebody that I really liked to move to the next step, it would be him.”