By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
Friday night at the Havre High gymnasium, the Havre High girls basketball team finally made a stand against the vaunted Lewistown Golden Eagles. The Ponies stormed back from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit only to fall short in their bid to upset the top-ranked Eagles, 53-46, in Central A conference action.
Trailing 38-22 heading into the fourth quarter, the Ponies mounted a momentous comeback that started with a pair of Steph Flatau baskets to begin the stanza. Alexa Lipp nailed a 3-pointer at the five-minute mark and all of a sudden the Eagles' lead was cut in half. Senior Amy McLain capped off an 11-1 run by the Ponies with back-to-back scores. Havre trailed by just six points, 41-35, with just under four minutes remaining in the contest.
The comeback didn't end there. With two minutes left in the game, Justine Erhard hit a 3-pointer from the wing that pulled Havre to within four points. McLain turned a steal into an easy layup that made the score 43-41 with 1:41 remaining.
As amazing as the frenzied comeback was for the Ponies, they would get no closer than that margin, as Havre was forced to put the Eagles on the free-throw line the rest of the way. Although Lewistown missed the front end of several one-and-one situations, Havre could not capitalize on the miscues and eventually the Eagles sealed Havre's fate at the charity stripe.
The loss was disappointing given the deficit that the Ponies overcame, but HHS head coach Jason Wirt was not discouraged after the contest. He praised his team for its ability to turn a blowout back into a competitive contest, along with the fact it was close to knocking off the best team in Class A girls basketball.
"I have told these kids that what I like most about them is that they play hard and they never give up," Wirt said. "We were overmatched physically, but they just didn't quit. They did the things necessary to come back and win this game tonight."
On the other side of the coin, Eagles head man Troy Hudson was a little bit beleaguered that his team let Havre back in the game. But in all, he was happy to escape the frigid Hi-Line with the narrow victory.
"We have to do a much better job of putting teams away," Hudson said. "We had a 16-point lead and we didn't finish the game. This was the first real close game we have had this season and hopefully our kids learn that they have to put the game away when we have the chance to do it."
Even though the Ponies trailed by 16 points going into the fourth quarter, Wirt said the defense his team played in the second half is what started the momentum swing. Havre trailed 30-14 at halftime after the Eagles had broken open a 15-8 first-quarter lead. Havre closed the gap to 15-12 early in the second period, but the Eagles went on a 13-0 run that was ignited by five straight Blue Pony turnovers. Ten of those 13 points came from Alira Carpenter as the Eagles seemed to be in control.
But in the third stanza, the turnover margin started to swing the other way and Carpenter was held in check. Even though the Ponies still trailed by 16 points, Havre had forced the Eagles into six turnovers in the quarter and that set the tone for the comeback, according to Wirt.
"There were a lot of positives for us in the second half," Wirt said. "I think it started because we started to play much better defense in the third quarter. We got some turnovers and we made it tough on them to score. We didn't give up the open looks that we did in the first half, and they didn't shoot the ball as well as a result. When you play good defense like that, it goes a long way.
"I thought the kids were a lot more aggressive offensively in the second half," he added. "Amy McLain did a good job of looking to shoot the ball and Steph Flatau gave us a great night offensively, and she also did a great job rebounding the ball for us."
Said Hudson: "We just turned the ball over way too much tonight. You can't turn it over like we did and expect to win. We were lucky that we were able to get to the foul line so we could have a chance to hold on to our lead late in the game."
Both the Ponies and the Eagles turned the ball over too much for any coach's liking. The Eagles committed 19 turnovers, with eight of those coming in the fourth quarter. Havre had 20 turnovers, but only five of those came in the second half, further aiding its comeback efforts.
Aside from Carpenter's game-high 18 points, star guard Sonya Rogers added 16 points. Both were held below their season average, and as a team Havre held the Eagles well below their average point total on the year. Havre was paced by Flatau's 17 points and 11 rebounds. Amy McLain added 10 points, and Keelie Solomon came off the bench to give Havre a solid nine points.
The win over the Ponies pushed the Eagles' record to 7-1 on the year and kept them undefeated in the Central A standings.
With back-to-back close home losses to Butte Central and Lewistown looming over their heads, the Ponies headed back on the road Saturday night and found themselves locked in a tight battle with Class B rival Malta.
The game with the M-Ettes was tight throughout. Havre trailed 19-17 after the first quarter, but battled back, despite four starters being in foul trouble, to take a 30-28 lead heading into halftime.
The game remained close throughout the second half. Havre pushed its lead to as many as seven points in the fourth period before the M-Ettes once again came back with a pair of baskets from Roshon Nordlund and Laramie Schwenke. Havre was able to break the tie as Steph Flatau and Whitney Barnekoff made critical free throws in the final minute to earn a hard-fought 53-48 road win.
"Our bench really gave us a great second quarter in Malta," Wirt said. "Keelie Solomon, Lena Suek, Alexa Lipp and Kelsey Evans all played the whole second quarter because our starters were in foul trouble, and they did a great job. They got the lead back for us. That was the third straight game that Keelie has come off the bench and given us really solid minutes."
Barnekoff had a great night as well, scoring a game-high 17 points. She and McLain, who scored 11 points, were able to pick up the slack for Flatau, who had a rare off night shooting the basketball. The M-Ettes got 14 points from Laramie Schwenke, but Havre's solid defense held starting guards Kelly Pankratz and Roshon Nordlund well below their season averages.
"Malta is a very good team so this was a very important win for our team," Wirt said. "We controlled the whole second half, and even though Malta hit some tough shots late, our kids did a great job of coming back and answering them every time we needed it.
"We needed this win just to get us back in the right frame of mind for this coming weekend," Wirt added. "I felt like we took a step back against Butte Central and we got that step forward back this weekend."
Havre will now prepare to host Belgrade on Friday night and Livingston on Saturday afternoon in a pair of all-important Central A conference games.
Lewistown 53, Havre 46
Havre 8 6 8 24 - 46
Lewistown 15 15 8 15 - 53
Havre - Amy McLain 10, Steph Flatau 17, Kelsey Evans 4, Alexa Lipp 5, Justine Erhard 5, Keelie Solomon 9, Whitney Barnekoff 1. Totals 14 17-23.
Lewistown - Alira Carpenter 18, Mallory Nelson 2, Sonya Rogers 16, Devin Nelson 5, Kayla Horacek 6, Laura Anderson 6. Totals 20 17-26.
Total fouls - Havre 19, Lewistown 17. Fouled out - McLain, Flatau, Lipp, Nelson. Three-point goals - Erhard, Lipp, Rogers 2.
Havre 53, Malta 48
Havre 17 13 12 11 - 53
Malta 19 9 9 11 - 48
Havre - Amy McLain 11, Steph Flatau 5, Kelsey Evans 4, Alexa Lipp 6, Justine Erhard 2, Keelie Solomon 2, Lena Suek 3, Whitney Barnekoff 17, Rebecca Hilliard 3. Totals 17 15-21.
Malta - Laramie Schwenke 14, Roshon Nordlund 7, Kelly Pankratz 9, Whitney Jones 2, Megan Skiff 8, Tracy Kaldenberg 8. Totals 19 9-19.
Total fouls - Havre 18, Malta 19. Fouled out - Pankratz. Three-point goals - McLain 3, Evans, Pankratz.