By George Ferguson
The Havre high girls basketball team and head coach Dennis Murphy have had their fair share of ups and downs this season. But on Saturday night the Ponies capped off one of the high points of the season by defeating the Malta M-Ettes, 64-57, at the Havre High gymnasium.
The win earned a season sweep for Havre over a team that has been one of Murphy's toughest challenges during his tenure at Havre, regardless of the fact that the M-Ettes play in the District 2B.
"Malta is one of the premier programs in Class B and in some years they have had the best teams in the state in any class," Murphy said. "I think you have to go back to 1997 to find the last time we swept them so this is a very satisfying win for us."
Havre High senior Carrie Flatau, who scored a career-high 29 points in the win over Malta, agreed with Murphy about how good it felt to get the victory over the M-Ettes.
"On the way home from Browning, we all got together and decided that we have to win this game," Flatau said. "We knew Malta was coming here to win, especially since we beat them in Malta. We were just not going to lose to them tonight."
The M-Ettes started the contest off much like they did against Havre in early January, but they suffered an early blow as starting guard Jenny Stiles was lost to a knee injury in the first minute of the game. However, Malta junior Jolene Fuzesy came out firing after Havre had grabbed an early lead behind five straight points from Flatau. Fuzesy scored 10 points in just a little over two minutes to give her team a five-point lead. But the Ponies kept pace behind Flatau, who continually got easy buckets in the paint. When the dust settled on a fast pace first quarter, the M-Ettes had a 23-19 lead. And Fuzesy had 17 points, including three three-pointers, while Flatau had 11 points and seven rebounds.
In the second period, Murphy managed to bottle up Fuzesy and the pace of the game as each team scored just nine points, giving Malta a 32-28 lead. Fuzesy was held to two points in the quarter and only got off two total shots.
Murphy knew he had to shut down the hot-shooting junior from Malta if his team was going to stay within striking distance.
"Jolene is a very quick shooter," Murphy said. "And she got off to a really hot start, but then we really did a good job of making her work harder for her shots."
In the third quarter, freshman Steph Flatau drilled a three-pointer at the 7:10 mark that sparked the Ponies to a 10-2 run, giving them their first lead since the game was 5-0. The M-Ettes took the lead back with a minute to go in the quarter behind a Roshon Nordlund three, but the Ponies finished the quarter on a Carrie Flatau layup and a Steph Flatau layup at the buzzer to give the Ponies a 46-43 lead with eight minutes to play.
The final stanza saw the Ponies continue to hold Fuzesy down and maintain a slim three-point lead throughout. The Ponies got 15 of their 18 fourth-quarter points from the Flatau sisters. Havre sealed the game at the free-throw line as they went 9-12 in the final two minutes, including two very big ones from senior Brooke Schwan.
"I was very happy with the way the girls maintained the lead at the end of the game," Murphy said. "Brooke Schwan stepped up and drilled two very important free throws when we're up by four. She had a job to do and she did it and her free throws basically wrapped up the game for us."
The Ponies were paced by Carrie Flatau's big night but also got 16 points from Steph Flatau as well as nine from Jeanna McPherson and eight from Renessa Briere. Fuzesy led the way with 28 points, but had just 11 after the first eight minutes. Nordlund chipped in with 17 points in the loss.
"Brooke, Sara Suek and Justine Erhard all did a great job of making Jolene work very hard just to get a shot and I think we really wore her down," Murphy said. "But this was a total team effort tonight. Everybody played really well and everybody executed their roles."
Said Carrie Flatau: "The whole team worked really hard on defense tonight. If all nine of us didn't step up and play hard we would not have won this game. We just all played together tonight."
Preceding the win over Malta, Havre traveled to Browning and suffered a 65-53 loss at the hands of the streaking Indians. The Ponies trailed just 13-10 after the first quarter and had the game tied at 13-13 early in the second, but then Browning went on a 16-4 run to finish the half.
"The game was close early and we were getting good looks in the second quarter," Murphy said. "What happened is that we just didn't convert our opportunities and Browning did. They got a lot of second-chance points and that hurt us in the long run."
The Indians outscored the Ponies 20-14 in the third quarter, and despite a late charge in the fourth, the Ponies could not get any closer than seven points.
Murphy says that rebounding and missed opportunities hurt his club.
"We got dominated on the boards and we had trouble containing Tamara Guardipee inside," Murphy said. "On top of that we just didn't convert offensively when we needed to.
"But I like our effort and I thought we played well," Murphy added. "I saw some very good things down there, but Browning is just a very hot team right now."
Dani Augare led the way for the Indians with a game-high 21 points, including four three-pointers, and Guardipee added 18. The Ponies were led by Carrie Flatau's 20 points and Steph Flatau chipped in with 18 points - including three three-pointers.
The weekend split leaves Havre with a 7-9 overall record. Havre is now alone in fifth place in the Central A conference standings with two games left. This week the Ponies will host Chinook on Thursday night and Great Falls High on Friday. Friday night's contest is the final game of the regular season and Havre will celebrate senior night.