By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
One thing was abundantly clear in the early going of the Havre High girls basketball team's season opener with Chinook on Thursday night - the Ponies are going to play defense. The Ponies forced Chinook to turn the ball over 12 times in the first quarter due to a suffocating and confusing full-court press and never looked back en route to a 53-38 win at the Havre High gymnasium.
The game was the Havre High debut for former Havre prep and collegiate star Jason Wirt and his Ponies came out intent to get him a win. With an intense defensive effort and balanced scoring attack from Steph Flatau, Whitney Barnekoff and Amy McLain, the Ponies made Wirt's first game a win.
"I was more than pleased with how the kids played tonight," Wirt said. "They played great defensively and they played with a lot of intensity. I couldn't have asked for any more out of them."
Neither team got off to a torrid pace offensively, but the Beeters were having trouble just getting past half court against Havre's intense full-court press.
And when the Beeters did get past half court, the HHS defense still forced Chinook's guards into errant passes. While not many of Chinook's early turnovers resulted into Havre baskets, Wirt was still excited about how his team played despite leading just 9-5 at the end of the first quarter.
"We didn't get a big lead off our press, but we were executing it well," Wirt said. "The kids stuck with it and it paid off later in the game."
Brittany Williams started the second quarter off by cutting the lead to 9-7, but the Ponies answered with a 7-0 run that gave them more of a cushion. The run started with a Flatau layup off of a Justine Erhard steal and McLain followed that up with a coast-to-coast layup off of a steal of her own. Seconds later, Erhard capped the run off with a three-pointer and the spurt ultimately led to a 23-13 halftime lead.
Despite being down, the talented Beeters were certainly not out. They weathered Havre's second quarter storm and came out and played much better basketball in the third quarter and early in the fourth.
Senior forward Whitney Lybeck scored seven points in the period and Monica Thackeray sank a couple of free throws at the end of the period to cut Havre's lead to 34-28.
Chinook kept their comeback alive early in the fourth quarter when Georgia Barber hit a jumper and followed that up with a three-pointer to cut the lead to one at 34-33. But Havre's defense picked up the intensity level again and it sparked the Ponies on a 14-2 run that ultimately sealed Chinook's fate. The run was capped off by a three-pointer from junior Alexa Lipp.
"Chinook is a very solid team and they did a great job coming back in the second half," Wirt said. "I was proud of the way our kids fought back after we had a little lull in the third quarter. But Chinook is very solid and they are going to do very well in their league this season."
Offensively, Havre was paced by Flatau with a game-high 16 points. Barnekoff also had a big night with 12 points and six rebounds and McLain added 11. Erhard also chipped in with nine points giving Havre some much needed balance in the scoring column.
But the best HHS stats came on the defensive end of the floor. They forced the Beeters into 20-plus turnovers and held one of Class B's better teams to 38 points on the night. Lybeck equaled Flatau's game-high point total of 16 to lead Chinook. Monica Thackeray added eight points.
"We got a great effort out of our whole team tonight, especially defensively," Wirt said. "Keelie Solomon and Alexa Lipp came in and did a great job defensively. They really gave us some quality minutes tonight. I couldn't be more pleased with how we played for the first game of the season."
Of course there will be no rest for the 1-0 Blue Ponies. Havre will travel south tonight to take on the Belgrade Panthers at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night Havre will visit Livingston and tip off at will be at 4 p.m.
Havre 53, Chinook 38
Chinook 5 8 15 10 - 38
Havre 9 14 11 19 - 53
Chinook - Monica Thackeray 8, Whitney Lybeck 16, Crystal Roseberry 1, Kassie Dugan 4, Georgia Barber 7, Brittany Williams 3.
Havre - Amy McLain 11, Steph Flatau 16, Alexa Lipp 3, Justine Erhard 9, Whitney Barnekoff 12, Rebecca Hilliard 2.
Three point goals - Havre 4 (Barnekoff, McLain, Lipp, Erhard); Chinook 1 (Barber). Total fouls - Chinook 11, Havre 15. Fouled out - none.