Don Palmer liked what he saw from the Pinckney girls basketball team on Tuesday night.
“They’re going to win some games,” he said. “People think I’m nuts, but they’re going to win some games.”
His admiration, however, should not be confused with charity, as Palmer’s Hartland squad (6-2 overall, 2-0 KLAA West) clamped down on the Pirates (3-5, 0-2) in the second quarter and never let up en route to a 41-24 victory at Pinckney High School.
It didn’t start out that way, though.
The teams were even, 10-10 after the first quarter, with Shannon Dingman scoring nine of her game-high 13 points for the Pirates, who thwarted Hartland with a 3-2 zone that forced the Eagles to put it up from the perimeter.
“We knew they were going to play a zone,” said Hartland senior Ryan Laier, who had a team-high nine points. “Right now, we’re in a funk with our shooting, so we knew that rebounding was going to be huge for us. We picked it up in the second quarter and started to get going.”
Another key was Natalie Halonen, who scored seven points, but more importantly attached herself defensively to Dingman like a force field, shutting her offense down and frustrating her utterly the rest of the night.
“I was inches from her the whole time,” Dingman said. “She would not let me do anything. They had a lot of help defense. They were fronting the post and we couldn’t get it in to them. They were just playing a lot better. They don’t do zone. They went man to man and it worked for them.”
The Pirates were held to two points in the second quarter, and the Eagles defensive pressure was unrelenting.
“I think we did a better job of dictating tempo,” Palmer said. “We had some great looks tonight, but nothing went in, so you’ve got to dictate tempo.”
That and hit the boards, which the Eagles did with gusto.
“Second-chance (shot)s for us was huge, because we had trouble shooting the ball,” Laier said.
The Pirates are a young team, with six sophomores on the roster and one senior, Dingman, who allowed as to that being a factor but with an important caveat.
“We’re still so much better than last year. I will say that,” she said. “I think we just needed to foul sooner. The coach (Jarrett Cogswell) was trying to get us to, but we weren’t getting to them as fast as we needed to.”
Cogswell was optimistic about his team’s chances going in.
“One of our focuses is getting a good start, and tonight we did,” he said. “But we need more, obviously. The way we got ready for the game, the pregame, the energy was good before the game started. We came out ready to go, but we struggled. On offense, we’re still not getting 100 percent execution. We’re getting some things out of what we’re running, but we’re not getting 100 percent of it, and we’ve got to get there.”
The Eagles employ their share of sophomores, too, but the steadying influences of seniors like Halonen and Laier were considered a key point.
“I think experience goes a long way,” Cogswell said. “We went into a defense and switched it up at the quarter, ad I give credit to Halonen. Right away, she knew. She’s a good player, and it helps to have that general out there.”
“We’re glad to be where we’re at,” Palmer said. We’re young, too. I still think it’s Brighton and Howell (to contend in the West), and we’d like to be a part of that. But you’ve got to dream big.”
And Palmer, who has been coaching for 40 years, had words of encouragement for Cogswell.
“He’ll be fine,” Palmer said. “He’s a good young coach, and I like what he’s doing. I’ve been there and done that. Many times.”
Cogswell, meanwhile, was looking ahead.
“We’ll take this on the chin, but we’ll be ready tomorrow,” he said. “We’re improving on things and we do things in certain areas that are improving. But the bottom line is you’ve got to rebound. We did a decent job, but it could have been better.”