By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sports/ email@example.com
This is a big weekend of basketball for the fifth-ranked Havre High boys basketball team.
Realistically, from this point on, every game is critical, but this weekend in particular is just a little bigger to Havre. It will be the first time the Ponies will square off against teams that they have already seen once this season.
The Ponies will begin the second half of their schedule tonight when they host the Harlem Wildcats at 7:30 p.m. at the HHS gymnasium. Havre will take Friday night off and travel to Glasgow on Saturday.
"This is a very important weekend for us because we are starting to get close to the end of the season," said HHS head coach Mark West. "This is the time when you need to be focused and sharp. I think our seniors understand that.
"We have had some really sharp practices and I think we are feeling pretty good about where we are right now," West added.
The Ponies' 7-3 overall record has them tied in the win column with both Belgrade and Dillon in the Central A conference standings. Havre is also leading the way in the Central A points system, which determines the conference standings and seeding for the Central A divisional tournament, which looms less than a month away.
Havre is also coming into the weekend looking to rebound from a difficult 80-50 loss to Great Falls High a week ago. In that game, West said, his team played good basketball despite the lopsided score. More importantly, they are feeling no ill effects from the loss as they prepare to face the top two teams in District 2B.
"I think that the kids know they played well in Great Falls, but that the Bison shot the lights out on us," West said. "We did some good things in that game and I feel like we have gotten better this week in practice."
Tonight's matchup with the Harlem Wildcats (6-3) is expected to be another barnburner in what has become a strong rivalry between the two schools. Havre won the first meeting of the season 64-50 back in December in Harlem.
However, the Ponies have only defeated the Wildcats twice in the last three years. West is hoping tonight's game will be much like the game the two played earlier in the year, because it was one of the few complete games that his team has played this season.
"We played really solid on both ends of the floor in Harlem," West said. "I think it was the best we have played for four quarters this season."
Meanwhile, the Wildcats have had moments of brilliance this season, but they have also had times where they have struggled to score points, which is not a normal characteristic of a Harlem basketball team
Still, Harlem is coming off a pair of blowout wins over Wolf Point and Malta last weekend and is still very much alive in the District 2B regular season title race.
"Harlem has gotten better since we played them last time," West said. "They are going to come in to our house and be ready to play and give us a very good test. Hopefully, we'll be ready for that challenge because right now our kid's mindset is that we need to win every game the rest of the season."
If Harlem and Havre is a big rivalry game, then things may even be more intense in Glasgow on Saturday night.
The No. 4 Scotties (7-2) are currently sitting atop the District 2B standings and their only two losses this season have come at the hands of Class A Sidney, as well as a 64-63 loss in Havre in late December.
In that contest, Glasgow managed to build a sizable fourth-quarter lead, only to see the Ponies storm back and steal the game from Glasgow in the final seconds. The win was Havre's first over Glasgow in more than two seasons and West knows that his team may have a target on its back on Saturday night.
"Glasgow is always fired up to play us and we have had some intense battles with them the last couple of years," West said. "We know that they will be well prepared and very fired up early on. Our biggest challenge will be to come out and match that intensity and focus right away."
Another primary concern for the Ponies will be handling Glasgow guard Glenn Bratz. In December, West directed his concerns with 6-8 center Nate Barstad, but it was Bratz who torched the Ponies for 25 points, including five three-pointers.
"Bratz really got hot against us and he kind of caught us off guard," West said. "On Saturday, we have to be aware of where he is on the floor and we have to try to limit his open looks because he can really knock down shots.
"I think the big thing about Saturday night is that we need our younger kids to step up and play with confidence on the road," West added. "We have some very tough road games coming up and those kids really need to learn how to win games on the road in tough environments."
Tonight's matchup between Havre and Harlem will tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium. Saturday's tilt between the Ponies and Scotties is also slated to get under way at 7:30 p.m. in Glasgow.