By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
The Havre High School boys basketball team led the Browning Indians for exactly two minutes of the game on Friday night.
But that happened in the final two minutes of the game, culminating a rally from a large first-half deficit and enabling the Ponies to claim a critical 61-58 Central A Conference win over Browning at the Havre High gymnasium.
The Ponies trailed Browning for exactly 32 minutes of the contest, until Blue Pony senior Cory Brothers drilled a three-pointer from the corner to push Havre ahead 59-58. Brothers than sank two critical free throws with 10 seconds remaining in the game to ice the contest.
"Cory has done that for three years now," said Blue Pony head coach Mark West of Brothers' penchant for game-winning shots. "No matter what type of game he is having, Cory always seems to make the clutch shot when his team needs it the most. He is just a very clutch player."
Brothers, who has spent a good portion of this season mired in a shooting slump, has seemingly broken out of that slump in the past two weeks.
"I have been shooting a lot better in practice and now they are starting to go in in the games," Brothers said. "I was glad that I could step up and make a big three tonight because we needed this win. My shot is starting to feel a lot better and I was just glad I could help us get a win tonight."
Brothers' game-winning heroics were set up by a lot of help from his teammates. The Ponies fell behind 20-11 after the first quarter and had to play catch-up the rest of the contest. Browning added an 8-2 run in the second period to keep Havre at bay and build a 36-27 lead at halftime.
"Browning came out in a 2-3 zone and it surprised the kids a lot," West said. "They did a tremendous job defensively in the first half and we needed to make some adjustments at halftime.
"Ryan Running Crane was also getting a lot of easy baskets on the baseline in the first half," West added. "Those two things definitely hurt us."
Indeed, the Ponies did make a slight adjustment in the second half. With Browning's zone forcing them to continue to shoot the ball from the outside, the Ponies found their shooting touch in the third quarter.
Sophomore Jeremy Giardina got hot from the outside and drilled two treys that helped the Ponies finish the quarter on a 12-3 run that pulled them to within three points at 52-49.
In the fourth quarter, the Ponies turned up the pressure defensively. Havre used a trapping defense that stymied the Browning guards and forced them into seven turnovers in the period.
After Brothers' shot at the two-minute mark, the Indians did not score again. They were held to a total of six points in the final stanza.
"I think the big difference is that we attacked their zone a lot better in the second half," West said. "And we also played a lot better defense as well. The kids really responded to being down tonight and they answered a really big challenge in the second half.
"We got a huge effort defensively from Patch Wirtzberger, Gary Wagner and Trent Normandy," West added. "In the third quarter, we put that combo in and they did a great job on Browning's guards and that was a big part of why we came back."
Brothers led all scorers with 24 points on the night. Tyler Hedalen also had a big game with 16 points, and Giardina added 13.
The Indians got 15 points each from Ryan Running Crane and Nolan Conway and 13 from Carl Trombley. Karl Ingraham chipped in with 11 points in the losing effort.
"We still have a chance to win our conference championship," Brothers said. "So this game was really big for us and it showed that we are playing really good basketball right now."
"This was a big win for us right now against a very good basketball team who might surprise some people at the divisional tournament," West said. "This game definitely had a tournament type feel to it. We had a big crowd and both teams were playing at a very high level. It feels pretty good to pull this one out."
On Saturday night, the Ponies returned to the hardwood as they visited District 2B rival Malta. And Havre proved yet again that things are heading in the right direction by ripping the Mustangs, 80-46.
Havre torched the Mustangs for 25 points in the first quarter and then scored another 16 in the second. Meanwhile, the Ponies' defense was solid as well, limiting Malta to just five points in the second period en route to a 41-19 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Ponies continued to stay hot, scoring another 26 points in the fourth quarter to put the game well out of reach.
Balance was the story for the Ponies' offense in Malta. Havre had five players in double figures, led by Brothers with 17 points.
Backup center Bret Magelssen added a season-high 14 points, and Marc Mariani and Jeremy Giardina chipped in with 11 points a piece. Tyler Hedalen added 10 in the win. The Mustangs got 14 points from John Galt in the losing effort.
The two wins this weekend up Havre's record to 12-5 on the season. Havre will finish the regular season at home on Friday night when it hosts the Great Falls High Bison.
Havre 61, Browning 58
Browning 20 16 16 6 - 58
Havre 11 16 22 12 - 61
Havre - Cory Brothers 24, Gary Wagner 2, Jeremy Giardina 13, Tyler Hedalen 16, Jared Weigel 6.
Browning - Scott Raining Bird 1, Carl Trombley 13, Karl Ingraham 11, Tyler Running Crane 1, Jared Wolftail 2, Nolan Conway 15, Ryan Running Crane 15.
Havre 80, Malta 46
Havre 25 16 13 26 - 80
Malta 14 5 15 12 - 46
Havre - Patrick Wirtzberger 2, Marc Mariani 11, Trent Normandy 9, Gary Wagner 4, Cory Brothers 17, Tyler Hedalen 10, Brett Magelssen 14, Tyson Parman 2, Jeremy Giardina 11. Totals: 32 11-16.
Malta - Cole Peterson 7, Tyler Sjostrom 8, John Galt 14, Bo Stiles 5, Kevin Hanson 2, Bryan Shores 5, Ryan Kovach 5. Totals: 18 7-12.