Don Palmer knew going into Tuesday’s game that beating Waterford Mott would mean taking on Waterford Kettering, ranked in the top 10 in Class A.
“I might be the only guy excited to play them,” the Hartland girls basketball coach said after his Eagles beat Mott 50-38 at Hartland High School, “but I think our kids are, too.”
Both Hartland and Kettering, which rolled past Milford 53-18, are in the Lakes Conference semifinals with their victories. They will play at Kettering on Thursday night.
The Eagles (13-4) overcame a somewhat sluggish first half against Mott (12-5), but took control in the second half after trailing 18-17 after two quarters.
“I think Mott had hit one perimeter shot (in the first half),” Palmer said. “Everything else was off the dribble. Everything. Normally we defend off the dribble pretty good. These are good athletes (at Mott), but let’s get off them a little bit and take that initial first step away and see what they can do. Now, if they hit some shots, we’ve got to adjust. But I thought we defended the dribble much better in the second half than the first.”
The results were almost instantaneous. Michelle Moraitis hit a 3 early in the third to give Hartland the lead for good, 22-19, and while Mott got to within one a couple of times, the Eagles finished the game strong.
Besides changing his team’s defense, Palmer told his team it had to be more aggressive on the boards.
“Coach gave us a big talk about being tougher, because our team isn’t really tough all the time,” sophomore Lexey Tobel said. “But he gave us a talk and it definitely motivated us to come out in the second half and play tougher and harder.”
“I thought they were taking the game to us,” Palmer said. “We weren’t getting many rebounds on either end. All of the jump balls were them initiating coming after us. I said, ‘Well, they came to play and you came to style, and we’ve got to play a little bit here,’ and I thought we were better in the second half.”
The Eagles also were strong at the free-throw line. Tobel was 8-for-8 at the line, and Hartland was 16-for-20 as a team.
“You’ll take that wherever you can get it,” Palmer said. “I’d like to say we do it all the time, but we don’t, so we’ll take it on this night.”
Tobel led the Eagles with 16 points, while Graysen Cockerham and Ryann Laier added 10 apiece.
“I think this is good for us regardless of what happens here,” Palmer said of beating Mott. “We’re going to play people who won in the first round, and it’s got to help you for tournaments. Maybe your W-L loss takes a hit, but if it helps you at Howell in a couple weeks, it’s worth it.”
Meanwhile, a team that lost a physical, emotional game at Brighton on Friday was back on track after knocking off the Corsairs.
“It was a good second half and it was a quality win against a quality team, and that’s good,” Palmer said. “Howell were two good wins, and Brighton were two good efforts, but they weren’t wins. So we’ll take this one. This is a good team we beat tonight. A talented team.”
Tobel, meanwhile, sounded an optimistic note.
“We weren’t looking past them,” Tobel said of Mott. “We think we’re going to get Kettering. People might think we can’t do it, but I know we can.”