By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
After a two-game home stand this weekend at the Havre High gymnasium, the No. 1-ranked Havre High boys basketball left little doubt about who the dominant team is in Central A boys basketball this season.
The Ponies defeated conference foes Belgrade and Livingston on back-to-back nights to run their overall record to 11-1 and also remain undefeated in the Central conference standings with just three conference games remaining.
Friday night, the top-ranked Ponies looked somewhat vulnerable against a very solid Belgrade team that raced out to a 12-5 first- quarter lead. But whatever vulnerability the Ponies showed early quickly disappeared in the first four minutes of the second quarter.
Havre head coach John Barnhorst attacked the Belgrade guards with a swarming full-court press that resulted in five turnovers on consecutive possessions and nine straight points off of those turnovers.
The run started with a Patch Wirtzberger layup off of a Jeremy Giardina steal. On Belgrade's next possession, Wirtzberger returned the favor, notching a steal and feeding Giardina with an easy score. Wirtzberger later capped off a 13-2 run by the Ponies with a 3-pointer.
By the four-minute mark in the period, Havre had tied the game at 19-19 and the two teams traded baskets the rest of the quarter. Wirtzberger and Weigel closed the period with a layup and a Weigel 3-pointer that gave Havre a slim 26-24 lead at intermission.
Barnhorst said after the game that it was the play of Wirtzberger and the team's defense that catapulted Havre back into the game after the sluggish start.
"I think our press really got to them in the second quarter," Barnhorst said. "The kids did a great job of attacking them, and we were able to get some easy baskets that got us back into the game.
"Patch Wirtzberger gave us a big lift tonight as well," he added. "He came in in the second quarter and really sparked us by making some good shots and playing great defense."
Said Wirtzberger: "We really made a big run in the second quarter. Our bench really came in and gave our team some good minutes tonight. It is nice that we can step in and do just as well, and our team doesn't miss a beat."
Although Belgrade's Rex Martin opened the third quarter with a baseline dunk to tie the game at 26-26, it didn't take the Ponies long to put the game away.
Ty Hedalen answered Martin's dunk with a turnaround jumper that gave Havre the lead, 28-26. His score ignited an 18-4 third-quarter run. Marc Mariani scored five straight points during the run and Gary Wagner capped off the quarter with a steal that he took the distance to give the Ponies a commanding 46-30 lead going into the fourth period. From there, Havre's bench cruised home for an all-important 59-46 conference win.
"This was a big win for us tonight," Wirtzberger said. "Belgrade is a very good team and they are big and physical. We knew that if we won this game, it would put us in good position for the rest of the season."
The Ponies forced the Panthers into 20 turnovers, with 19 of those coming after the first period. Havre also outrebounded the Panthers, which is something the Ponies didn't do the first time the two teams met back in December.
"I think we played really well after the first quarter," Barnhorst said. "We took good shots and we were balanced on offense. We also did a good job of controlling the paint against a team that was a lot bigger than we are. We accomplished everything we wanted to do tonight."
Havre's balanced scoring attack was paced by Weigel with 11 points. Wirtzberger's night included 10 points and four steals. Mariani and Hedalen added nine points a piece. The Panthers got a game-high 17 points from senior Rick Brown.
On Saturday afternoon, the Ponies continued their winning streak, which is now at seven games, with an 84-61 thrashing of winless Livingston. Havre scored 14 unanswered points to start the game and held a commanding 24-10 lead at the end of the first period.
But the Rangers wouldn't go away quietly as they answered Havre with a 13-2 run midway through the second quarter. The run was capped off by seven straight points by Mychal McNamee. Havre, however, had an answer for the Rangers' momentum by ripping off 10 straight points to close the half.
Turnovers again played a factor as Wirtzberger came off the bench and picked up two steals that were converted into baskets at the other end of the floor. He also hit a 3-pointer from the left corner, and by the time the half ended the Ponies were back to a comfortable 45-27 lead.
"I thought we got off to a pretty good start and we were playing well offensively," Barnhorst said. "But I think we relaxed a little in the second quarter and our defense didn't play as well as we did on Friday night.
"Still, the kids played another pretty good all-around game," he added. "Livingston is a team that does some things well and they shot the ball pretty well tonight."
Despite the Rangers' best efforts, they would have no answer for Hedalen or Mariani in the second half. The two combined to score 14 points in the third quarter. As a team, Havre put 29 points on the board and all but put the Rangers away for good.
Hedalen scored a season-high 33 points, most of which came in just two full quarters of play. Mariani chipped in with 14 points, nine assists and four steals. The Rangers got 11 points from McNamee, and Jay Hardesty added 10.
Havre will be back in action Thursday night when the team travels to Great Falls for a rematch with the CMR Rustlers at the CMR Fieldhouse. The Ponies will look to avenge their only loss of the season when they host the Great Falls High Bison on Saturday night.
Havre 59, Belgrade 46
Belgrade 12 12 6 16 - 46
Havre 5 21 20 13 - 59
Belgrade - K. Rieger 4, R. Brown 17, R. Jones 9, Z. Halgren 4, R. Martin 8, J. Allemendinger 2, B. Westmoreland 2. Totals 19 5-7.
Havre - Patch Wirtzberger 10, Marc Mariani 9, Jeremy Giardina 4, Gary Wagner 6, Jared Weigel 11, Tyson Parman 5, Ty Hedalen 9, Mike Barton 5. Totals 21 12-21.
Total fouls - Belgrade 17, Havre 14. Fouled out - none. 3-point goals - Brown, Jones 2, Wirtzberger 2, Weigel 3.
Havre 84, Livingston 61
Livingston 10 17 12 22 - 61
Havre 24 21 29 10 - 84
Livingston - Ryan Walt 8, Codi Price 2, Ray Carter 5, Craig Hutchison 7, Mychal McNamee 11, Mike Benvenga 8, Andrew Foster 2, Jay Hardesty 10, Carl Berutsen 8. Totals 22 14-23.
Havre - Patch Wirtzberger 5, Marc Mariani 14, Jeremy Giardina 2, Gary Wagner 8, Jared Weigel 6, Logan Grant 2, Tyson Parman 8, Ty Hedalen 33, Mike Barton 6. Totals 35 11-16.
3-point goals - Carter, Wirtzberger, Mariani. Fouls - Livingston 17, Havre 22. Fouled out - Weigel.