By George Ferguson
HARLEM - Harlem star senior forward Chris Cole may not have started Thursday night's contest against the Havre Blue Ponies, but he certainly finished it as he led the Wildcats to an emotional 75-64 win over the Ponies in Harlem.
Cole and teammate Hank Brockie sat out the first five minutes of the contest due to disciplinary reasons, but his play during the final two minutes sealed the victory for Harlem.
With the Wildcats holding on to a slim 60-56 lead with two minutes to go in the contest, Cole stole Steve Heberly's inbound pass and raced down the floor for an emphatic slam dunk while being fouled. His dunk sent the Wildcats fans into a frenzy and sparked a 17-8 run in the final two minutes that allowed Harlem to pull away from the Ponies. Cole scored eight of those 17 points including a three-pointer and another dunk just before time expired.
Going into the final period, the Wildcats had gained a 48-46 lead after a back and forth third period that saw the Ponies and Wildcats change leads seven times. Cory Brothers tried to keep Havre in the game by drilling a three-pointer midway through the period. But the Wildcats would respond to every Havre score. With just :25 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Colby Fetter was fouled while attempting a three point shot. He sank all three free throws to give the Wildcats the two-point lead, as well as a mountain of momentum going into the final stanza.
While the Wildcats flourished in the pressure-packed fourth quarter, the Ponies did not. And it was something that disappointed Havre head coach Mark West.
"The last four minutes of the game really hurt us," West said. "We lost our poise and that is really frustrating because we were only down by two points. To be in the game and not have the poise to be patient and get good shots is really disappointing."
On the other side, Harlem head coach Kyle Bigby thought that his team's intensity and pressure in the fourth period was key in propelling them to the win.
"I think we wore them down tonight," Bigby said. "It is tough for us to keep up the full-court pressure for a whole game, but we wanted to make sure that we made them work extra hard to get shots and I think it worked for us tonight."
West admitted that Harlem's pressure in the fourth quarter got to his team both physically and mentally.
"Harlem is a veteran team and they turned up the pressure on us late in the ball game," West said. "And we just didn't respond to it. We started making mistakes and fouling them and they did what they're supposed to do which is to put us away at the foul-line."
"We had our chances though," West added. "We just got impatient."
The chances Havre had came from a strong first half performance. The Ponies came out shooting the ball well, but the Wildcats responded to every Havre run. The Ponies then went on a 9-0 run to start the second quarter before Harlem answered with an 8-0 run of their own. However, Brothers went one-on-one with Cole as time wound down in the first half and drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to give Havre a one-point 29-28 lead at the break.
Brothers had 15 points in the first half and with a game-high 30, but he was largely ineffective shooting the basketball in the second half.
Bigby said that his strategy was to wear Brothers out as the game progressed.
"Cory is a great basketball player and we knew he was going to get 25 or 30 points on us tonight," Bigby said. "But our gameplan was to make him work very hard and earn every point he got and I think he got tired towards the end of the game."
Ryan Lusin also had a fine night for the Ponies with 14 points and Curt Leeds added a solid eight points. The play of Leeds pleased West.
"I thought Curt Leeds played really well tonight," West said. "We needed to go inside more and he stepped it up on that end and he also rebounded the ball pretty well."
The Wildcats got 22 points from point-guard Colby Fetter and Jim Kennedy added 20. Cole also chipped in with a solid 16 off the bench. Bigby believes that Kennedy really sparked his club in the win.
"Jim Kennedy gave us a big lift tonight," Bigby said. "He has actually played really well the last four games and he did again tonight.
It was the seventh straight win for the Wildcats since losing to the Ponies in Havre in mid-December. They improved their record to 9-1 and will travel to Poplar on Saturday night. Although there is a lot of season left, Bigby admitted this win is very satisfying and his squad is playing very well.
"This is a great win tonight. One of our goals this season was to win all our home games," Bigby said. "So far we have done that and the kids are playing with a lot of confidence right now."
The Ponies fell to 5-5 overall and they will next host the Glasgow Scotties on Saturday night. That game is scheduled to tipoff at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High Gymnasium.