Havre Daily News
When teams are coming off two consecutive losses, they usually try to find a cure for what's ailing them.
Unfortunately for the Havre High girls basketball team, all they found was a rough and tumble CMR team.
Not exactly the cure the Ponies had in mind.
For three quarters Tuesday night at the HHS gymnasium, the Blue Ponies hung with one of the best teams in the state. Then, with a series of devastating second-half runs the Rustlers methodically crushed the will of the Ponies on their way to a 61-50 victory.
“We just ran out of gas tonight,” HHS head coach Jason Wirt said. “We handled their pressure so well for most of the game, and then we relaxed a little bit and we couldn't regain that focus.”
Havre got off to a picture perfect start as the Ponies used an 11-0 run in the first quarter to take a surprising 14-6 lead. Soon after, the veteran Rustlers would answer with a 6-0 run of their own to cut the deficit to two points at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, it didn't take long for the Rustlers to reclaim the lead, and after they went on another 8-0 to go up 26-18, it appeared that the Ponies' hopes for victory were fading fast.
The Ponies would not die that easily. They went on to outscore the Rustlers 11-6 the rest of the period and pull within three points after Hope Hedges hit a 3-point shot in the closing seconds of the first half to make it 32-29 at the break.
“This team could have very easily folded up shop,” Wirt said. “They could have given up without Alexa, but they kept on fighting and some young kids really stepped up.”
Havre was forced to play without senior starter Alexa Lipp, who was injured in practice on Monday.
It seemed going into the third quarter that the Ponies would have some momentum after the Hedges trey to end the half. But whatever momentum Havre may have had, the Rustlers stole it away quickly as they went on a 10-3 run to open the period and split the game wide open.
Trailing by 10 points, Steph Flatau tried to single-handedly keep the Ponies in the game as she scored seven of Havre's 12 third-quarter points. The Ponies still trailed 48-39 at the end of three.
After a Flatau basket cut the Rustler lead to seven points early in the fourth quarter, the Rustlers went on one final run that put the game away for good. The Rustlers' 13-2 spurt midway through the final stanza put them ahead 61-43.
The Ponies had no answer for the Rustlers' offense and, with point guard Kelsey Evans on the bench with foul trouble, the Ponies found points hard to come by.
“We struggled against the zone and we just didn't execute on the offensive end,” Wirt said. “And with Kelsey in foul trouble we just lost our rhythm on offense and we couldn't regain it.”
The Ponies were led by Flatau, who continued her solid play with another double-digit scoring night. She scored 14 points. Keelie Solomon and Evans added seven points each.
The Rustlers were led by Kelsey Hopkins, who poured in 13 points. Dani Walsh pitched in 12 points.
One of the bright spots for the Ponies in the loss Tuesday night was the play of some of their young players like Hedges, who scored seven points on the night, and Stephanie Stremcha, who notched six points in her first career start for the Ponies.
“The young kids really stepped up for us tonight,” Wirt said. “Stephanie Stremcha probably played her best game tonight. She did a lot of things well. All of them will just continue to get better with the more minutes they see and the more situations they are in.”
Even though the Ponies will head into the holiday break on a three-game slide, they can take solace in the fact that they played one of the best teams in the state neck and neck for the better part of three quarters.
“We didn't come out and play scared,” Wirt said. “We came out and gave them a tough game, and in the end we gave ourselves a shot and that is something that can give the kids some confidence.”
The Ponies will now head into the break with a 2-3 record against a very formidable schedule. They have an opportunity to work out some of the kinks and a chance to prepare themselves for what promises to be a grueling schedule the rest of the way.
“We need to work on executing better in our half-court offense as well as defending better in the half-court,” Wirt said. “We also need to work on conditioning and getting in better shape so that we don't run out of gas late in games.
“We are just young, we just need more experience and we need to keep developing,” he said. “And once we get everyone back healthy we will be just fine.”
Havre High will be back in action on Jan. 5 when the Ponies travel to Great Falls for a rematch with CMR.
Rustlers 61, Ponies 50
CMR 12 20 16 13 - 61
Havre 14 15 12 13 - 50
CMR - Kelsey Hopkins13, Quincy Carter 3, Shantell Marquis 9, Dani Walsh 12, Kassie Homlund 11, Alyssa Frank 5, Mary Anderson 8. Totals: 21 16-23.
Havre - Tricia Samson 3, Erika Briese 2, Steph Flatau 14, Hope Hedges 7, Katie Mariani 2, Keelie Solomon 7, Kelsey Evans 7, Steph Stremcha 6, Lena Suek 2. Totals: 16 13-21.
3-point goals - Carter 1, Homlund 1 Frank 1, Hedges 2, Evans 1. Total fouls - CMR 22, Havre 16. Fouled out - None.