By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
It was a classic case of two completely different nights for the Havre High girls basketball team this past weekend at the HHS gymnasium.
The Ponies struggled in a 51-38 loss to the Belgrade Panthers on Friday night, and then mounted a epic comeback in a 42-41 win over Livingston on Saturday evening to earn a split in a pair of important Central A conference games.
Against Belgrade on Friday, Havre's offense struggled to keep pace with the Panthers. Belgrade jumped out to an early 11-7 lead on a pair of Jen Smith baskets, which included a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Alexa Lipp and Lena Suek came off of the bench late in the quarter to bring Havre back to within four points at 15-11, but it would be a lead that the Panthers would never relinquish.
Smith continued her fine first-half play in the second quarter as the Panthers were able to up their lead to eight points, 27-19, by halftime.
The Ponies responded early in the third quarter, cutting the lead down to two points at 27-25 behind back-to-back scores from Steph Flatau and Whitney Barnekoff. But that would be as close as the Ponies would get.
By the end of the third period, the Panthers' lead was back up to eight points, and the Panthers tacked on 16 more points in the fourth period on their way to the 13-point victory.
After the game, HHS head coach Jason Wirt admitted that his team struggled on both ends of the floor and was capable of playing much better basketball.
"We didn't take bad shots tonight," Wirt said. "But they just weren't falling for us.
"Defensively, I am disappointed because we allowed things that we normally have done a good job at all year," he added. "We gave Belgrade way too many easy shots and a lot of open layups. We just didn't do a good job defensively tonight."
Flatau led the Ponies in the loss with 13 points, while Lipp scored seven points off of the bench. Smith matched Flatau's output with 13 points of her own and Amy Bolen chipped in with 10 points.
While the loss to Belgrade set the Ponies back a little in the conference standings, Saturday night against Livingston things began to look even more bleak for HHS. Already having lost to the Rangers back in December, Havre again fell behind early on in the rematch.
The Rangers jumped out to an early 14-10 lead behind six points from 6-3 center Shannon Bosley. Sara Meyer was able to push that lead to as much as eight points late in the second quarter as she scored five straight points.
Alexa Lipp, answering for Havre, sank a deep three-pointer with 35 seconds remaining in the half and Amy McLain made one of two free throws after time expired to cut the Rangers lead back down to four points, 24-20.
"I think in the first half Livingston was just getting too many easy baskets," Wirt said. "We were hanging in there offensively, but we just couldn't seem to get the stops when we really need them."
In the third quarter, the Rangers once again tried to run away with the game by ripping off seven unanswered points to up their lead to 10 points, 36-26. By quarters' end, the lead was nine at 38-29.
That lead quickly ballooned to 12 points as Sage Inendi opened the final stanza with a 3-pointer.
From there, Havre staged a classic comeback.
The Ponies' defense would hold the Rangers scoreless in the final 6:42 and Amy McLain got Havre started with back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to 41-35. Flatau then hit a baseline jumper at the 4:38 mark, and Justine Erhard, who had sat most of the game with foul trouble, scored three straight points to tie the game at 41-41.
During that stretch, Havre forced Livingston into nine turnovers and the Rangers could not even attempt a shot on seven consecutive trips down the floor. The final drama came with four seconds left when Becca Hilliard was fouled and sank the second of two free throws to give the Ponies the one-point win.
Wirt said that several factors were critical in the comeback, and credited two players, who had a difficult game, for stepping up large in the most critical of times.
"I think our press was really effective in the fourth quarter," Wirt said. "Them not having Bosley up front to break the press was huge for us and her being in foul trouble certainly helped us out.
"Justine Erhard had a really tough night because she was in foul trouble, but she did a great job of coming back in cold and making things happen at the end of the game," Wirt added. "Becca Hilliard also did a great job at the end of the game. She stayed with it and made a really big free throw."
McLain was the only Blue Pony to reach double figures with 10 points and Flatau added eight. Bosley scored a game-high 13 points in the loss.
The win over the Rangers salvaged a split on the weekend and keeps the Ponies in fourth place in the Central A standings, ahead of both Belgrade and Livingston.
"This win is huge for us," Wirt said. "It was great that we could come back from a tough situation late in the game. It also gives us some home for where we want to finish in the conference at the end of the regular season.
Havre (6-6, 3-4) will return to action on Friday night when they host the CMR Lady Rustlers. The Ponies will also travel to Great Falls on Saturday for a tilt with the GFH Bison.
Belgrade 51, Havre 38
Belgrade 15 12 8 16 - 51
Havre 11 9 7 11 - 38
Belgrade - Necia Knuchel 1, Rachel Frost 5, Elizabeth Coughlin 4, Keri Hein 6, Amy Bolen 10, Hannah Benson 8, Jaylene Spanning 4, Jen Smith 13.
Havre - Amy McLain 3, Steph Flatau 13, Kelsey Evans 3, Alexa Lipp 7, Justine Erhard 5, Keelie Solomon 1, Lena Suek 2, Whitney Barnekoff 4.
3-point goals - Smith, Evans, Lipp, Erhard. Total fouls- Belgrade 13, Havre 15. Fouled out-none.
Havre 42, Livingston 41
Livingston 14 10 14 3 - 41
Havre 10 10 9 13 - 42
Livingston - Sara Meyer 8, Sage Inendi 8, Lydia Thiry 3, Agnes Kesting 2, Brianna Ackerman 5, Shannon Bosley 13, Alicia Evanson 2. Totals 16 6-11.
Havre - Amy McLain 10, Steph Flatau 8, Kelsey Evans 3, Alexa Lipp 5, Justine Erhard 4, Keelie Solomon 1, Whitney Barnekoff 6, Rebecca Hilliard 5. Totals 13 11-19.
3-point goals - Inendi 2, Thiry, McLain 3, Evans, Lipp. Fouls - Livingston 16, Havre 12. Fouled out - Bosley.