By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
Havre High head girls basketball coach Dennis Murphy knew that starting off the new year would be tough on his Blue Pony team given the two quality opponents his team would face coming off of Christmas break.
But the Ponies started 2004 off on a good note with a pair of hard-fought victories this weekend over Browning and Malta.
"It is always nice to get two wins over a pair of good basketball teams," Murphy said. "But this weekend was really important because we knew that we had two tough games after a couple of weeks off. The kids really responded and we picked up two really nice wins."
On Friday night, the Ponies hosted the Browning Indians and triumphed in dramatic fashion with a 61-60 win over its Central A Conference rival.
Browning got things off to a quick start in the first quarter, jumping ahead 11-4 early on. But as would be the case all night, the Ponies rallied behind the play of senior Jolene Fuzesy to pull within one of Browning at the end of a furious 18-17 first quarter.
In the second quarter the pace slowed a little and the Ponies were able to grab the lead behind the three-point shooting of Fuzesy and sophomore Steph Flatau. Fuzesy answered a Jenna Skunk Cap three-pointer with one of her own to break a 21-21 tie at the 5:50 mark of the period. She then broke a 27-27 tie two minutes later with another trey. Amy McLain upped Havre's lead to 32-29 with a layup off of a steal just before the end of the half.
While Murphy didn't like the way his team started the first half, he was pleased with the way it finished it.
"We came out and turned the ball over a ton early in the game," Murphy said. 'But things got a lot better in the second quarter. We had much better movement of the ball and we were able to find some open shots."
In the third quarter, the pace picked up once again as the two teams traded baskets throughout the period. Fuzesy's hot shooting continued as she scored nine points in the quarter, which helped the Ponies keep their slim three-point lead.
However, Browning's all-state center, Tamara Guardipee, also got going in the third quarter as she scored 10 of her team's 16 points to keep pace with the Ponies, setting up for a furious finish to the contest.
In the final stanza, the Ponies were able to briefly up their lead to six points when Alexa Lipp grabbed a steal and converted the layup at the 6:06 mark.
Still, Guardipee and the Indians would not go away as they went on a 9-3 run that pulled them to within one point with a minute remaining in the game. Fuzesy answered Guardipee with a baseline jumper that again gave Havre a three-point lead. With 48 seconds remaining Alicia Overcast was able to make a critical free throw that gave the Ponies a 61-57 lead.
Havre would need all of that lead as Skunk Cap nailed a huge three-pointer with 11 seconds remaining to pull the Indians within one point at 61-60. A missed Overcast free throw gave Browning one final chance to win the game. However, Bobbi Woodworth's desperation three-point attempt was off the mark and Havre escaped with the one-point victory.
"This was an important win for us tonight," Murphy said. "Browning had a key player out of the lineup so we had to take advantage of that. We knew we had to have this game against Browning and we found a way to get it done.
"I was disappointed with the way we shot free throws at the end of the game but the kids stepped up and found a way to hold on. This was a good win for us."
Fuzesy led all scorers with 32 points, including five three-pointers. Flatau chipped in with 16 points. Guardipee also had a big night as she led Browning with 26 points, and Skunk Cap added 18 points in a losing cause.
As thrilling as Friday night's win over Browning was, Saturday night's trip to Malta had all the makings of a dramatic contest as well. The Mustangs have been one of the Ponies' primary rivals over the last decade and Fuzesy was also making her first trip back to Malta since transferring to Havre earlier this year.
The Ponies wasted little time asserting themselves against their 2B rival as they raced out to a 26-12 lead in the first quarter. Havre continued to stay hot in the second period as the lead ballooned to 44-27 before Malta drilled a three to close out the half.
"We played really well in the first half against Malta," Murphy said. "We were rolling offensively and things were going good. But Malta is a good basketball team and they were able to hang around at the end of the half."
In the second half, the Ponies went to a zone defense and the Mustangs responded by hitting seven three-pointers in the second half.
Behind that hot shooting, Malta was able to close the gap on Havre, but could never completely overcome the large first-half deficit. The Ponies were also able to keep the lead in the second half thanks to the efforts of Fuzesy. Her homecoming was highlighted by a game-high 35 points, most of which came by driving the lane and scoring inside, according to Murphy.
"Jolene had a great game against Malta," Murphy said. "They defended her really tight and she responded by going to the basket hard and scoring inside. It was a nice game for her and the fans were really good to her. She had a great weekend."
Junior point guard Amy McLain also had a solid night for the Ponies, scoring a season-high 10 points on the night. Malta had three players finish in double-figures, led by Kelly Pankratz's 19 points. Roshon Nordlund and Ashley Henry added 17 and 14 points, respectively.
The two wins move Havre's record to a 6-2 on the season. The Ponies are alone in third place in the Central A Conference standings. While Murphy was happy to get the two victories, he does see things that need to be addressed in the coming weeks.
"Right now I feel like we are not where we need to be defensively," Murphy said. "That is a primary concern for us right now and it is something we have to get solved pretty quickly.
"The positive side of that is that we are very good offensively right now," Murphy said. "We know that we can score a lot of points and that will keep us in games. But to be a complete team we are going to have to be better defensively down the road."
Havre will be back in action on Thursday night when it hosts the Great falls High Bison at 7:30 p.m.
Havre 61, Browning 60
Browning 17 15 16 13 - 61
Havre 18 11 16 15 - 60
Browning - Melanie Calf Boss Ribs 4, Loris Whiteman 4, Misty Tatsey 2, Bobbi Woodworth 3, Jenna Skunk Cap 18, Kendall Edmo 3, Tamara Guardipee 26. Totals 26 5-8.
Havre - Alicia Overcast 1, Amy McLain 2, Steph Flatau 16, Alexa Lipp 2, Justine Erhard 4, Jolene Fuzesy 32, Whitney Barnekoff 2, Rebecca Hilliard 2. Totals 23 7-12.
Three-point goals - Skunkcap 2, Edmo, Flatau 2, Erhard, Fuzesy 5. Total fouls - Browning 12, Havre 10. Fouled out - none.
Havre 70, Malta 60
Havre 26 18 13 13 - 70
Malta 13 17 10 20 - 60
Havre - Alicia Overcast 6, Amy McLain 10, Steph Flatau 5, Kacy Herron 4, Alexa Lipp 2, Justine Erhard 6, Jolene Fuzesy 35, Whitney Barnekoff 2. Totals: 23 20-22.
Malta - Ashley Henry 14, Roshon Nordlund 17, Kelly Pankratz 19, Whitney Jones 2, Erin Sanderson 2, Nicole Salsberry 6. Totals: 23 7-12.
Three-point goals: Overcast 2, Erhard 2, Henry 1, Nordlund 2, Pankratz 4. Total fouls: Havre 11, Malta 19. Fouled out: Nordlund, Henry.