By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
It wasn't the ACT or SAT, but the Havre High boys basketball team passed a pretty big test last weekend at the Central A Tip-off tournament in Anaconda.
After dropping the opening game of the season to a surprise Belgrade Panther team, the Ponies were in jeopardy of an 0-2 start when they fell behind early in Saturday afternoon's game against Anaconda. But the Ponies responded and rallied and ended up cruising to a win over the upstart Copperheads.
Now a 1-1 Havre team will face even a tougher test as the Ponies play three games in three nights against a trio of talented District 2B teams. The fun starts tonight when Havre renews its annual rivalry with the Chinook Sugarbeeters at 7:30 p.m. in Chinook.
Havre will also travel to Harlem on Friday night before returning to Havre to open up its home schedule against the Glasgow Scotties Saturday night.
"This is a big weekend for us," said HHS head coach Mark West. "We have to play two of our biggest rivals at their gym and then hope we have enough left when Glasgow comes here Saturday night.
This weekend is also a big test for the Ponies because despite stepping down in classification, the trio of 2B squads have given Havre all they could handle over the last couple of years. The Ponies swept the Beeters last season, and earned a hard fought split with the Wildcats with each team winning on its home floor. Glasgow, on the other hand, handed Havre blowout losses twice last season.
Havre's wild weekend gets underway tonight when the Ponies square off against the rival Beeters in Chinook. The Beeters come into the game at 0-3 on the season after suffering losses to defending Class B state champion Cut Bank Dec. 4, as well as losses to 2B rivals Plentywood and Wolf Point over the weekend.
The Beeters are also in new territory as they are forced to carry on without all-conference guard Casey Schmidt, who graduated last spring. Dylan Davies and Kelan Broadhead have picked up the scoring in the absence of Schmidt, but it is 6-6 center Marcus Birky who has West concerned heading into tonight's matchup.
"Birky and Davies give them a good size advantage against us," West said. "I know that they had a tough time this past weekend, but I also know that they get up to play us every year. Especially when we come to their gym.
"I am sure that Coach Friede will have them very well prepared and fired up for this game."
And if playing the rival Beeters isn't a tough enough way to start a three-game stretch, the Ponies will turn around and head back down Highway 2 on Friday night to visit Class B powerhouse Harlem.
The two teams played a pair of dramatic games last season that went down to the wire. But Harlem (1-1) enters this season having to replace three all-conference players in Chris Cole, Hank Brockie, and the teams emotional leader in Colby Fetter. Despite the heavy losses to graduation, Harlem does return standout forwards Ben Carrywater and Jim Kennedy this season.
"Coach Bigby lost some very talented players from last year's team, but they have a lot of talent that came back," West said. "Carrywater is a tremendous player, who was kind of overshadowed at times last season by their seniors, and Jim Kennedy single-handedly put us away in the third quarter in Harlem last season."
The Wildcats opened their season with a tough six-point loss to St. Labre, but managed to bounce back with a win. West know that the Wildcats will be ready and excited to see the visiting Blue Ponies Friday night.
"Harlem will give us a huge battle Friday night," West said. "They are very explosive offensively, and they bring a lot of pressure defensively so we will have to be ready to play right away against them."
Perhaps the team that West and his troops have been looking forward to playing the most in 2003 will come calling on Saturday night in Havre. The Glasgow Scotties embarrassed the Ponies twice last season and West is hoping to finally turn things around early in the new season.
"Glasgow is a team that has always given us trouble," West said. "Their size has always been a problem for us, but at the same time we seem to really fall apart against their pressure defense and then they get their transition game going.
"Because of that, I think our kids are really looking forward to getting on the floor against them Saturday night," West added.
Like Chinook and Harlem, the Scotties also suffered some critical losses to graduation this past year. All-state forward Sam Brelje and shooting guard Steve Falcon are gone after a very successful runs in the program. But the Scotties do return 6-8 junior Nathan Barstad and a solid point guard in Randy Elletson. Glasgow also continues to have a distinct size advantage against Havre as the Scotties move up a pair of 6-3 players from last year's junior varsity team.
"Our kids have worked really hard all week in practice," West said. "Things have been very intense this week and I think they are eager to get back on the floor and play well this weekend.
"We did not shoot the ball well at all in Anaconda and we didn't have any continuity on the floor," West added. "I have seen a lot of improvement this week and hopefully that will carry over into these games against three good basketball teams."
Tonight's game in Chinook between the Ponies and Beeters will tipoff at 7:30 p.m. and can be hear on 101.3 KRYK-FM. Both Tomorrow night's game in Harlem and Havre's home opener against Glasgow on Saturday night will get underway at 7:30 p.m. and can be heard on 610 KOJM-AM.