By George Ferguson
Havre High girls basketball head coach Dennis Murphy used the Christmas break to work on some things that his team needed to improve on.
Thursday night it didn't take long to find out that the work payed off, as the Ponies stunned the Malta M-Ettes, 46-43, in Malta.
It was a big win for Havre, which came into the game off of two very bad losses.
"This is a great way to start the new year," Murphy said. "We were feeling pretty disappointed in the way we were playing going into Christmas break, so to come out and play this well was a big lift for us. This was definitely a big win."
The Ponies led 11-8 after the first period and used a second-quarter spurt of 16-9 to put some distance between them and the M-Ettes. Murphy said his team's defensive effort in the first half was key.
"We were up by 10 at the half and playing very well. I felt like Malta was lucky to only be down 10 given the way we were playing," Murphy said. "We defended them really well in the first half and that was big. But we knew that we would be in for a dogfight in the second half."
The M-Ettes wasted little time in fighting back, outscoring the Ponies 15-6 in the third quarter behind the hot shooting of star Jolene Fuzesy.
However, Murphy went to a box-and-one defense that shut her down and ultimately preserved the close victory as the Ponies outscored Malta 13-11 the rest of the way.
"Fuzesy came out and lit us up in the second half," Murphy said. "But we went to a box-and-one and she only got three more points. All of our girls did a solid job executing that. Overall, this was by far our best defensive effort of the season."
The Ponies once again got a big night out of the Flatau sisters. Carrie Flatau led the way with 16 points and 11 rebounds while sister Steph matched her with 16 points as well. Amy McLain had 10 assists. Murphy said the contribution from Jeanna McPherson off the bench was also a factor in the contest.
"Jeanna had her best game of the season by far," Murphy said. "She rebounded the ball well and played tremendous defense for us."
Fuzesy led the way for Malta, scoring a game-high 22 points while Jenny Stiles added nine points in the loss.
The win pushes Havre's record 3-4 on the season, and Murphy is hoping it will push his Ponies even further.
"I don't think many teams are going to win in Malta because they are a very talented team," Murphy said. "But we also understand that one win does not make a season, and we just have to hope that this will carry over."
The Ponies continue a very busy weekend tonight when the Browning Indians come calling in another critical Central A matchup. Murphy says Browning will definitely present a stern test for the Ponies.
"Browning has won four straight games since the tipoff tournament," Murphy said. "And they match up with us very well because they have a lot of size inside.
"We are going to have to play really good post defense against them, but also be aware of the fact that they can shoot the ball well from the perimeter."
On Saturday night, Havre will make the 21-mile journey east to face the Chinook Sugarbeeters, which Murphy again thinks will be a tough game for his team.
"It is going to be a tough game for us because it will be our third in three nights," Murphy said. "Chinook is a solid basketball team and I am sure they will be ready for us. They have Coach (Pat) O'Brien back. He has been around the game a long time so I know he will have them ready to play very hard on Saturday night."
The Beeters come into Saturday's contest with two wins on the season and are led by Jennifer Baird and Whitney Lybeck. They also have gotten significant contributions from Kayla Erskine and Brittany Buhmann.
Tonight's contest between Havre and Browning is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High Gymnasium. Saturday night's game in Chinook is also scheduled for 7:30 p.m.