By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Ole Goat might be staying put in Great Falls for another year, but Jeremy Giardina and the Havre High boys basketball team made sure that they weren't going to be swept by either Electric City school in 2005.
Two days after losing in Great Falls to the CMR Rustlers, the Ponies outlasted the Great Falls High Bison, 68-55, in a physical, foul-plagued inter-class game at the HHS gymnasium Saturday night.
Giardina came off the bench to score a career-high 20 points, including four timely 3-pointers, as the Ponies broke open a tightly contested game in the fourth quarter. After the contest, Giardina spoke about how important is was for the team to get a home win over the Class AA Bison.
"It was a very bad loss for us the first time we played Great Falls High," Giardina said. "We were really focused as a team tonight and we wanted to show them that we were a better team than we showed in Great Falls.
"This win is going to give us a big boost of confidence," he added. "I think that beating both Great Falls and CMR shows everyone that we would be a pretty good AA team this season."
Giardina's contributions were not lost on HHS head coach John Barnhorst, whose team was in foul trouble the entire contest, meaning more minutes for the junior guard.
"We knew that Jeremy could come in and shoot the ball this well," Barnhorst said. "He has been playing really well the last couple of weeks and when he shoots the ball like he did tonight, it makes us an even deeper team. He had a great game tonight."
While the scoreboard showed a 13-point margin of victory at the end of the game, the Ponies were in a dogfight with the bigger Bison for much of the contest. The two teams played nearly even in the first half. The game was tied 12-12 after the first quarter, but the Ponies started to open the game up at the start of the second.
Ty Hedalen opened the quarter with a three-point play and Giardina backed that up with his first 3-pointer of the game on Havre's next trip down the floor. Jared Weigel gave the Ponies an eight-point lead midway through the quarter when he drilled a three. However, Bison sophomore standout Shaun Tatarka wasn't about to let his team fall too far behind.
In the final four minutes of the first half, Tatarka scored nine points to bring the Bison to within one point at 32-31 with just second left in the half.
But it would be Giardina who would have the last laugh in the half, hitting his second trey of the game as time expired to give the Ponies a slim 35-31 lead at intermission.
Giardina's timely shooting would be a theme that would continue in the second half. The Bison drew close again near the end of the third quarter before Giardina buried another three to put his team up by three points heading into the final stanza.
"I just tried to concentrate on shooting the ball tonight," Giardina said. "I wasn't shooting it well earlier in the season, so I don't think I was a big concern for them and I got some good looks. I didn't realize how important they were at the time, but I was just happy they were going in for me tonight."
The fourth quarter didn't have much flow to it. Nevertheless, Havre was able to pull away from the Bison via a 9-0 run early and a 12-2 run to close the game, most of which came from the foul line. Havre shot 14 free throws in the final eight minutes of the game as the teams combined for 50 personal fouls on the night.
Giardina got the fourth quarter off to a good start by driving to the basket to score a spinning layup and completing the three-point play at the foul line. Jared Weigel scored six points during the run and had a pair of steals that led to HHS points.
In the final minutes of the game, the Ponies were continuously sent to the free-throw line. Fittingly, it was Giardina who scored the final two points of the contest to give Havre the important win over its AA nemesis.
The game was marked by physical play and Barnhorst was pleased with how his team reacted to that type of game.
"It was really good to see us play well in the half court on both ends of the floor," Barnhorst said. "The kids were really patient offensively, and it was nice to see that we could beat a good team without relying so heavily on our press."
Havre was very balanced offensively. Giardina picked up the slack for Marc Mariani, who was in foul trouble most of the way. Weigel scored 12 points and Hedalen added 10. Gary Wagner chipped in with nine points and did a tremendous job defensively on 6-5 standout Bobby Howard.
Howard and Tatarka paced the Bison with 13 points apiece, but they were held to one field goal each in the second half. Barnhorst said that his team's defense made a big difference in the outcome of the game.
"Tatarka is a tremendous shooter and he was hot early," Barnhorst said. "He also hurt us in Great Falls, but our kids did a great job on him in the second half. Everyone who guarded him really did a great job tonight and not letting him get open was big for us."
The win over the Bison means that the Ponies held home court for the season against the Great Falls schools. The Ponies also improved to 12-2 on the season. Havre will have just one game this week as it hosts the Butte Central Maroons on Friday night.
Havre 68, GREAT FALLS HIGH 55
Great Falls 12 19 10 14 - 55
Havre 12 23 9 24 - 68
Great Falls High - Eric Chaon 11, Shaun Tatarka 13, Dan Mathes 11, Bobby Howard 13, Derek Dowson 7. Totals: 19 13-22 55.
Havre - Marc Mariani 6, Jared Weigel 12, Ty Hedalen 10, Gary Wagner 9, Tyson Parman 2, Jeremy Giardina 20, Patch Wirtzberger 4, Mike Barton 5. Totals: 21 19-24 68.
Three point goals - GFH 4 (Chaon, Tatarka 3), Havre 7 (Wagner, Weigel 2, Giardina 4). Total fouls - GFH 25, Havre 25. Fouled out - Weigel.