By George Ferguson
The Chinook Sugarbeeters and Havre Blue Ponies are headed in opposite directions right now.
Still, they will collide tonight at the Chinook High School gymnasium. When the Ponies and Beeters get together, streaks and records seem to be forgotten.
The Beeters are coming off of three straight very tough losses at the hands of Malta, as well as back-to-back losses to the second-ranked Harlem Wildcats and third-ranked Glasgow Scotties. Those three losses over the course of the last 10 days have left the Beeters with a 3-12 overall record coming into tonight's rivalry game with the visiting Ponies. It has also left Chinook head coach Scott Friede looking for ways to keep his team positive in the midst of its recent struggles.
"We're coming off of three really tough games," Friede said. "Taking on our schedule has been very tough and it is hard right now for our kids to stay positive after a stretch like that.
"It is one of those situations where it seems like nothing is going our kids' way right now," Friede added. "We just have to get in a positive frame of mind and fight our way through this."
Meanwhile, the visiting Blue Ponies are in the midst of a three-game winning streak. They knocked off fifth-ranked Lewistown 10 days ago. This weekend Havre avenged an earlier loss to Malta along with a dramatic senior night win over the third-ranked Browning Indians in Havre.
"We are really starting to play more as a team these last few games," said Havre head coach Mark West. "Everybody is coming together, accepting their roles and contributing to the success we're having."
One reason for the Ponies' recent winning streak has to be the play of senior center Ryan Lusin. Over the last four games Lusin has been averaging better than 16 points per contest despite being in foul trouble in each of those contests.
"Ryan is playing really well right now," West said. "And he is doing it while having some very tough defensive assignments the last few games."
Tonight's game is a rematch of a Jan. 2 meeting in Havre in which the Ponies won a 59-49 defensive struggle with the visiting Beeters. In that contest, Chinook stayed close most of the game, but let Havre go on key scoring runs in the third and fourth quarter to pull away. Friede believes that stopping those kinds of scoring spurts will be a key tonight.
"I thought we played pretty well in Havre," Friede said. "But we let them get on a couple of runs that we did not counter and that hurt us."
"In this game, we are going to have to stop them from dictating the tempo," Friede added. "We're going to have to score with them at times to stay in the ballgame because they are a very talented and athletic team."
Friede also thinks that if his team is to get out of the recent funk it has been in, it will have to start tonight against the Ponies. And in order for that to happen, he is going to need leadership.
"We need someone to have a breakout game for us and step up and lead us," Friede said. "If we get that and the rest of the guys follow, I think we can be successful because the season is not over. But we have to start things off against Havre and that will be tough because they are such a solid ballclub."
Meanwhile, West is hoping to capitalize on the momentum his team is riding right now, all the while continuing to improve.
"We have two tough road games this week against Chinook and Great Falls High," West said. "I know that Chinook will be ready to play against us.
"What we need to do is keep playing like we are now," West added. "But we also have to understand that we're not quite there yet. There are still some things we need to get better at - especially on the offensive end of the floor."
Also on the minds of the Ponies is the looming Ole Goat game on Friday night in Great Falls, but they can't afford to look past the Beeters. Havre has positioned itself in third place for the moment in the Central A Conference standings with an 8-7 record, a place where West would like to stay.
"We have three big games left on the road," West said. "We just need to stay focused and continue to improve. We'll see what happens because none of our last three games will be easy."
Tonight's tilt between Havre and Chinook is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. in Chinook. The game can be heard on 610 KOJM-AM in both Chinook and Havre.