HASLETT — Success has run through the DeWitt girls basketball program in recent years.
A trip to the Breslin Center, a regional and district championship, and shares of the league title have been some of the high points during a strong multi-year run for the Bill McCullen-coached Panthers.
But it’s been a while since the mid-Michigan mainstays single-handedly controlled its own conference, as DeWitt has collected just a piece of the CAAC Red championship the past two seasons.
That may change this year.
FRIDAY NIGHT HOOPS
The Class A No. 6-ranked Panthers, who had a one-game lead in the league going into Friday night, remained as the conference’s frontrunner when they defeated second-place Haslett, 54-43, on the Vikings’ senior night.
DeWitt, which guaranteed itself at least a share of the conference title, will face Owosso next week — a victory would hand the Panthers their first outright CAAC Red title since the 2012-13 season. Waverly is a game behind in second place after beating Mason in overtime Friday night.
“We certainly talked about (winning outright) today,” McCullen said. “The last two years we shared it. It’s a tough league — it was a three-way tie last year.
“This is special. If we can get this thing outright, especially with all the good teams we got in the Red, that’s saying something.”
Early on, the records were thrown out of the window for the showdown between the two longtime rivals. Haslett opened the game with a 9-3 run and eventually took an 11-8 lead into the second quarter. Freshman forward Imania Baker, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding, hit her head on the floor just minutes into the game after corralling a rebound. She returned briefly in the second quarter but did not play the entire second half.
The Vikings (11-7, 6-3), who had won five straight heading into Friday, extended their lead to six in the second quarter after a strong stretch from sophomore guard Ella McKinney, who scored eight of her team-high 15 points in the first half. DeWitt started to find its rhythm midway through the quarter and rattled off a 12-4 run to take a two-point lead into the locker room. Junior forward Grace George scored five of her team-high 15 points during the run.
The Panthers (17-1, 8-1) were able to hold Haslett to just two field goals in the third quarter. The defense ignited the push as DeWitt was able to get several fast-break buckets in the quarter.
“Our aim was to keep running the ball and playing good defense the whole time,” said senior guard Jessah McManus, who scored eight points. “We like to really jump to the ball so that we can run as fast as we can and make the other team keep up with us.”
The Panthers gained separation early in the final eight minutes when a 3-pointer from sophomore Madison Petersen, who scored 14 points, sparked a 15-7 run.
“We didn’t take care of business in the second half,” said Vikings senior guard Annisa Whims, who scored five points. “Sometimes, if Imania gets taken out, we can lose momentum that way, too. She’s a big (part) of our offense and our defense. The issue was not being able to adjust to that when we didn’t have Imania.”
DeWitt’s Sydney Mill added seven points. Haslett’s Olivia Green scored six points.
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.