By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
Tonight's girls basketball game in Chinook won't just be another classic battle in the Havre/Chinook rivalry. Tonight's game will most certainly have historical significance, because, at least for the foreseeable future, it will be the last girls basketball game between the two schools.
Next season the Beeters are planning a move down to Class C, meaning they will no longer be able to play the Ponies in what has been one of the most long-standing rivalries in Montana high school basketball.
In the season opener for both schools last month, the Ponies earned a 53-38 win, setting up tonight's final tilt in Chinook at 7:30.
In the earlier contest, Havre's suffocating defense forced Chinook into 20-plus turnovers and it pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Since that game, the Beeters have gone 2-2 and the Ponies 2-3 going into the Christmas break. And as the two teams prepare for their first game after the break, both head coaches are looking for better performances out of their respective teams.
"I think that was by far the worst game we have played this season," said Chinook head coach Mark Roseberry of the first meeting with Havre High. "Havre's press really hurt us and we did not take care of the basketball at all. We turned the ball over way too much.
"But we have really focused on that in preparing for this game," he added. "I think the girls are feeling a lot more confident right now, and since this is the last game with Havre, they are looking forward to it."
HHS head coach Jason Wirt agreed with Roseberry's assessment of the first outing. He also believes his team will have to play much better tonight than it did the first time around, if the Ponies are going to escape Chinook with the last win of the storied rivalry.
"I think that our pressure defense was the deciding factor in the first game," Wirt said. "We forced them into a lot of turnovers. But if Chinook can handle our press, then they are right there with us.
"We also made a lot of little mistakes the first time we played them," Wirt added. "We need to clean those things up and really focus on the things that make us successful. If we do that, then we should be fine."
The first meeting between the two teams also featured both squads' leading scorers taking center stage. Chinook got 16 points from senior Whitney Lybeck, and she will figure to be a big part of Chinook's offense again tonight. But if the Beeters are to have success against Havre, Roseberry said, everything will start with his guard play.
"We have made some adjustments in dealing with Havre's press for this game," he said. "I think we match up well with Havre, and we want to get the ball inside to our posts. But offensively, we have to know when the right time is to go inside. We can't force it in, and we can't make bad decisions with the basketball. If we cut our turnovers from the first game in half, we should be OK. Taking care of the basketball will be our primary goal."
Meanwhile, the Ponies got 16 points from junior Steph Flatau in the first meeting with the Beeters. She is leading Havre in scoring (11.5 ppg) and rebounding (10.8 rpg). Flatau is the only player averaging in double figures this season, but Havre does have a balanced scoring attack. Senior Whitney Barnekoff is averaging 9.0 points per outing, and fellow seniors Amy McLain and Justine Erhard are chipping in with around seven points per game.
Tonight's game should not mirror the first matchup back in early December. Both teams had several more games under their belt and have had the last two weeks to practice during the holiday break. Wirt said the break has done his team quite a bit of good, and he is hoping that will translate into a much better performance tonight in Chinook.
"The time off has allowed us to get healthy and get rid of all of our little dings that we were dealing with," Wirt said. "It has also given us time to add some new things and get better in the areas that we needed too.
"I think we should be much more sharp this time around," he added. "I am sure they have worked on handling our pressure. I expect them to be sharp as well. It should be a much better game. Hopefully we can execute and just do the things that we do well and we can play a solid game."
The final meeting between Havre High and Chinook is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the Chinook High School gymnasium. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM. There will be no freshman game between the two schools. The junior varsity game will start at 5:45 p.m.