By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
By the time the the final buzzer sounded on Friday night at the Havre High School gymnasium, the No. 2-ranked Havre High boys basketball team had wrapped up its third straight Central A conference regular season basketball championship.
But the clinching 72-54 win over the Butte Maroons did not come without some tense moments for Havre first-year head coach John Barnhorst.
The Ponies struggled on both ends of the floor in the first half and had to withstand a torrid shooting performance by BC junior Shaughn McKeon before getting things turned around late in the second quarter.
"We just didn't play very well at all early in the game," Barnhorst said. "We were turning the ball over and we had some terrible breakdowns defensively. We really let McKeon go off on us."
While the first quarter began and ended with Ty Hedalen layups, in between the Maroons played one of their best quarters of basketball this season.
McKeon hit a 3-pointer early in the quarter and that got the Maroons off on a 12-2 run that put them out in front 21-17.
But as has been the case in recent games, Havre's bench came to the rescue. Patch Wirtzberger opened the second period with a 3-pointer from the left corner and Jeremy Giardina came in and gave the Ponies a much needed lift of intensity and offense with some tough driving scores.
While McKeon still ended up with an astounding 19 points in the first half, it was the Ponies, and their bench, that had regained the lead, 36-33.
"We got another great night from our bench," Barnhorst said. "Patch and Jeremy both came in and did a great job for us and Mike Barton also gave us some quality minutes in the post."
While the Ponies had withstood McKeon and a solid blow from the hot-shooting Maroons in the first half, the game seemed far from over as the third quarter got under way.
But that all changed very quickly as Hedalen began to heat up and the Maroons had no answer for him. Hedalen scored 10 points in the quarter. As a team, the Ponies ripped off 12 unanswered points to open up a 12-point lead, 55-43, heading into the final stanza.
The only thing that didn't go right for Havre in the third quarter was an injury to junior starting guard Jared Weigel. While going up for a loose ball, Weigel crashed to the floor in obvious pain and was later taken to Northern Montana Hospital.
"Jared has a severely sprained ankle, but he is going to be OK," Barnhorst said. "Whether he plays this week is still up in the air at this point, but he will be fine."
Being down 12 points starting the fourth period, the Maroons looked like they might make a final push to get back into the game. They scored six quick points to start the quarter and easily cut the lead in half.
But Giardina, Wirtzberger and Tyson Parman took the momentum right back and put BC away for good. The trio combined to score Havre's final 15 points of the game as the Ponies outscored the Maroons 15-5 in the final five minutes of the game. While Havre's poor start discouraged Barnhorst, he did like what he saw from his team in the second half.
"I thought the kids did a good job of adjusting in the second half and we were able to slow McKeon down," he said. "We definitely played a lot better and it is nice to see that we can win games even when we are not playing that well. You also have to take your hat off to Butte Central. They came in here and played really well tonight."
Hedalen led all scorers with a game-high 26 points and 11 rebounds. Giardina hit double figures for the third straight game as he and Weigel scored 10 points apiece. Wirtzberger and Parman gave the Ponies seven points each. The Maroons got 22 points from McKeon, but he managed just three points in the second half. Stephen Burns added 10 points.
Next up for Havre (13-2, 8-0) will be a home meeting with Lewistown on Friday night. Havre will honor its six seniors on Friday as they play their final home game of 2005. The Ponies will visit Malta on Saturday afternoon.
Butte Central 21 12 10 11 - 54
Havre 17 19 19 17 -72
Butte Central - Jake Stagnoli 2, Shaughn McKeon 22, Matt Pokorny 7, Matt Ritter 2, Kevin O'Leary 2, Stephan Burns 10, Alex Murphy 9. Totals 20 10-14.
Havre - Patch Wirtzberger 7, Marc Mariani 6, Jeremy Giardina 10, Jared Weigel 10, Tyson Parman 7, Ty Hedalen 26, Mike Barton 6. Totals 30 11-17.
Total fouls - Butte Central 17, Havre 16. Fouled out - none. 3-point goals - McKeon 3, Pokorny, Wirtzberger.