10. Pinckney, Fowlerville girls wins first district games in forever
OK, maybe not forever. But for both programs, that is certainly what it felt like, with Fowlerville not winning a district game since 2010 and Pinckney since all the way back in 2005. This year, both of those teams changed that. The resurgent Gladiators beat Lansing Catholic and ventured to the district championship where it ultimately lost to the No. 3-ranked team in Class B, Williamston. Pinckney, which had a difficult season in the extremely tough KLAA West, used that experience to trounce Saline and advance to the semifinals.
9. Brighton cheer rebounds from rough loss in ’16 to make state finals
The Brighton competitive cheer squad missed out on the state finals in 2016 by less than a point. To put that into perspective, there are a possible 798 points to be had across three rounds; essentially, the Brighton girls missed out on states in one of the cruelest possible fashions. The Bulldogs, extra motivated in 2017, made their dreams of making the state finals come true. Brighton coach Christina Wilson led the squad to the Division 1 state meet for the first time since 2008, where the Dogs finished eighth.
8. Five swimmers from Livingston County earn All-State
The county’s four schools had only two state placers in 2016. That number more than doubled this past season. Howell diver Caleb Balgaard, who was one of those two in 2016, took eighth for a second straight year in diving at the Division 1 state meet. Brighton sophomore Cade Hammond edged him out for sixth, and Hammond’s teammate, Drew Panzl, capped off his season with a seventh-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke. Hartland’s Cory Nelligan nearly made All-State in two events, getting one in the 50 freestyle with his sixth-place finish and finishing ninth in the 100 freestyle. Pinckney’s David Turner, who competed in Division 2, placed in two events, the 100 and 200 freestyles, placing sixth and third, respectively.
7. Hartland’s goalie battles through fever to shut out Stevenson
One year ago, Livonia Stevenson ended Hartland’s run to a Division 2 hockey title in the semifinals. It was a tough pill to swallow for the Eagles, who had one of their best teams ever in 2015-16. But the Eagles were back deep in the playoffs again in 2017, and got a chance in the quarterfinals for a little bit of revenge vs. Stevenson. However, there was one big question mark entering the game – what was Hartland going to do in the net? Their goalie, the state’s leader in goals against average, Andrew Heuwagen, was ailing with a fever. Not only did they get Heuwagen, but they got him in tip-top form, as the Eagles’ netminder saved all 20 of Stevenson’s shots for a 3-0 shutout win that sent his team to the D2 semifinals.
6. Howell’s Palo drains jumper to complete epic comeback at Milford
Things looked bleak in the third quarter as Milford held a seemingly insurmountable 14-point lead. As Howell proved on this night, no lead would be big enough. Led by sophomore Josh Palo, who scored 18 of his 20 points in the final 13 minutes, the Highlanders put themselves in position to win with 10 seconds left. With Palo having the scorching-hot hands, the ball was certainly going to the 10th-grader. He received a pass from Johnny Shields, pump-faked and stepped just inside the free-throw line to sink the game-winner.
5. Hartland girls basketball wins four championships, beats Howell four times
It was undoubtedly a bit disappointing the way the Hartland girls basketball team ended the season, falling to Farmington Hills Mercy in the regional semifinals when many expected the Eagles to venture deep into the postseason. But what a season it still was in Hartland, where coach Don Palmer’s squad flipped the tables on Howell and won four titles, including the KLAA West, Lakes Conference, KLAA Association and district championships. It made it so much better that the Eagles beat Howell all four times to do it, returning the favor after Howell beat Hartland four times in 2016.
4. Joey Livingston wins KLAA title just after his father passes away
Joey Livingston’s father Craig passed away after a long battle with a rare disease called Loeffler’s endocarditis on Jan. 30, just days after Livingston had won his first varsity wrestling tournament. At the KLAA championships just five days later, the wounds still very fresh, an emotional Livingston battled through the 160-pound bracket to claim the championship and honor his late father. Craig never got the chance to see Joey win a tournament, as his illness had worsened by that point, yet Joey said at the time, “I believe in heaven, and I know he was looking down watching me win it.”
3. Brighton, Howell hoops battle to longest playoff game in state history
The Bulldog and Highlander girls basketball teams competed in one of the most epic duals that Livingston County has seen in recent memory, the two fighting in the district semifinals to four overtimes before Howell ultimately took the 47-45 victory. According to the MHSAA record book, it was the longest game in postseason history and only the sixth time a game has ever had at least four overtime periods. Alexis Miller scored all six of Howell’s points in the fourth overtime, scoring a basket with 1:58 left and then hitting two free throws to turn an early three-point deficit into a two-point win.
2. Brighton gymnast wins four state titles in one day
Courtney Casper entered rare territory at the Division 1 gymnastics state finals, where she won four state championships in a single meet, including the all-around gold medal. She was the first in Brighton history to win the all-around, and joined only two other gymnasts in D1 history — Grand Ledge’s Meaghan McWhorter (2008) and Linden’s Lauren Simpson (2001) — to win four at one meet. Those events — the uneven bars (9.650), floor exercise (9.775), and she tied with teammate Hannah Bracken (9.700) for the gold in the vault — included one of the highest all-around scores recorded (37.975).
1. Brighton climbs back atop the state in hockey
The Brighton hockey team’s run to a third state championship in six seasons — and first since 2013 — provided the county’s best story of the winter. Perhaps the signature moment was the Bulldogs’ 2-1 overtime win over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the D1 regional finals. St. Mary’s seemed to have the Bulldogs on the ropes, but goaltender Logan Neaton’s play and freshman Will Jentz’s goal 6 minutes and 38 seconds into the extra period propelled Brighton to the quarterfinals. From there, the Bulldogs cruised to their fifth state championship match in six years with wins over Lowell (7-0) and Northville (5-0). Matched up against familiar foe Detroit Catholic Central, which had won three straight titles and twice beat Brighton during the run, including in 2016 by a score of 3-0, the Bulldogs jetted out to a big lead and eventual 5-2 win to seal the deal.