By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
Over the last couple of years, there has been a pattern that seems to follow the Havre High girls basketball team when it plays a Class AA opponent from Great Falls. The Ponies always raise their level of play, but in the end it never seems to be enough no matter how well they play.
On Friday night, that pattern was emphatically interrupted as the Ponies shocked the fourth-ranked Class AA CMR Rustlers 53-49 in front of a boisterous crowd at the Havre High gymnasium.
Havre shook off a shaky start to the contest and stayed with the bigger, stronger and faster Rustlers for the final three quarters. CMR opened the game on an 8-0 run that included 3-pointers from Shelby Danelson and Kassie Homlund. But the Ponies were able to stop the Rustlers from running away with the game, closing the gap to 13-7 on 3-pointers from Amy McLain and Justine Erhard.
After the game, HHS head coach Jason Wirt said that taking the initial blow from the Rustlers and not panicking was instrumental in how his team would play the rest of the way.
"CMR came out shooting the ball extremely well," Wirt said. "But we know they are a good team and we know they can score points quickly. I was proud of our kids for hanging in there early and not getting down because they did get off to a really fast start."
Despite the Rustlers' hot start, they would not be able to shake loose from Havre the rest of the way. Havre stayed close to the Rustlers throughout the second quarter, and Kelsey Evans came off the bench to tie the game at 23-23 with a 3-pointer at the 1:43 mark in the half. CMR was able to go back up by three points at the end of the half, but the Ponies had served notice that they were in the game to stay.
"I think we did a great job of controlling the ball and we didn't turn it over as much tonight," said senior Justine Erhard. "Their press has gotten to us in the past, but tonight we stayed together and played well as a team."
Indeed, the Ponies played as a team on both ends of the floor and they continued to make timely shots in the second half. Erhard opened the second half with a 3-pointer. Even though Danelson answered with a three of her own, Havre continued to fight back every time it fell behind. McLain and Alexa Lipp each hit big 3-point bombs.
The two teams hit a slight lull at the start of the fourth period, but Lipp would pull Havre out of it when she nailed a critical 3-pointer with 3:05 to play. Lipp's three put the Ponies ahead for good, and minutes later Whitney Barnekoff gave HHS some insurance when she knocked down a 3-pointer of her own.
CMR's Kristin Mansch was able to answer with a three that pulled the Rustlers to within three points at 52-49. The Rustlers also got several good looks at a game-tying 3-point shot in the final 20 seconds of the game, but Steph Flatau came up with a big rebound and also sank a free throw to give Havre the four-point win.
"This was an awesome game to play in," Erhard said. "It was exciting and intense and I thought we played great tonight. We shot the ball well and played great team basketball. This is a huge win for us."
Wirt said Havre's defense and ability to control the pace of the game was critical as was Havre's shooting. The Ponies connected on a season-best eight 3-pointers and all of them came at critical junctures in the game.
"I think that keeping the score close was important because we were able to control the tempo of the game," Wirt said. "Not having to come from way behind allowed us to play a lot of zone tonight and CMR didn't shoot the ball that well after the first quarter. The kids did a great job of playing in the half court tonight and controlling the tempo.
"I think we also finally shot the ball with a lot of confidence, especially in the second half" he added. "It seemed like everybody made a big shot for us at some point."
Flatau was the only Blue Pony to reach double figures with 11 points. She also recorded her usual double-double with 10 rebounds as well. McLain added nine points, while Erhard and Becca Hilliard gave Havre eight and seven points, respectively. The Rustlers got 21 points from Kelsey Hopkins and 11 from Homlund.
While the win doesn't count in the conference standings, Wirt said the importance of it could not be understated.
"I think this win shows our kids that they are good enough to beat the fourth-ranked team in Class AA," he said. "But it is also good for our confidence level. We don't have a lot of games left and we want to peak as we get to the divisional tournament, and this will certainly help with our confidence."
The Ponies were riding high after Friday night's win, but the third-ranked GFH Bison took some of that joy away from the Ponies on Saturday afternoon. The Bison shot the lights right out of the Swarthout Fieldhouse in an 85-60 rout.
Wirt said it wasn't that his team played poorly in Great Falls, but the Bison were on a different level offensively.
"Sarah Stubbs really went off on us," he said. "She made shots with people right in her face. It was just one of those nights for them."
Havre had the game well within reach, trailing 16-11 at the end of the first quarter. But Stubbs and the rest of the Bison exploded for 29 points in the second period and they never really looked back. GFH only outscored Havre 40-36 in the second half, but the 45-24 halftime lead the Bison had built was more than enough to subdue their Class A counterparts.
Stubbs led all scorers with a career-high 31 points. Lauren Beck scored 19 points and Mary Galloway added 14 on a night when the Bison shot better than 70 percent from the field. The Ponies were paced by Justine Erhard's season-high 18 points. Erhard's night included four threes, as Havre once again poured in eight treys as a team. Kelsey Evans was also solid off the bench for the Ponies with nine points.
"Justine played really well this weekend," Wirt said. "When she shoots the ball well, it adds a whole other dimension to our team."
The split with the Great Falls schools puts Havre's record at 7-7 on the season. The Ponies will return to conference action this weekend.
Havre 53, CMR 49
CMR 11 15 13 10 - 49
Havre 7 16 16 14 - 53
CMR - Kelsey Hopkins 21, Jamie Young 2, Shantell Marquis 2, Dani Walsh 3, Kassi Homlund 11, Shelbi Danelson 6, Kristin Mansch 3, Mary Anderson 1. Totals: 20-48 5-17 49.
Havre - Amy McLain 9, Steph Flatau 11, Kelsey Evans 5, Alexa Lipp 6, Justine Erhard 8, Keelie Solomon 2, Whitney Barnekoff 5, Rebecca Hilliard 7. Totals: 18-45 9-22 53.
Three point goals - CMR 4 (Homlund, Danelson 2, Mansch), Havre 8 (McLain 2, Evans 1, Lipp 2, Erhard 2, Barnekoff 1). Total fouls - CMR 19, Havre 17. Technical fouls - Homlund. Fouled out - Homlund.
Great Falls High 85, Havre 60
Havre 11 13 16 20 - 60
Great Falls 16 29 15 25 - 85
Havre - Amy McLain 2-5 0-0 6, Steph Flatau 3-10 1-2 7, Justine Erhard 5-11 5-5 18, Whitney Barnekoff 3-7 0-1 7, Rebecca Hilliard 2-5 2-4 6, Kelsey Evans 3-3 2-2 9, Alex Lipp 1-8 2-2 4, Keelie Solomon 1-6 0-1 3, Lena Suek 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 20-56 12-17 60.
Great Falls High - Sarah Stubbs 12-16 4-7 31, Lauren Beck 8-12 3-3 19, Kiri Winkler 2-7 0-0 4, Mary Galloway 7-12 0-0 14, Sam Schermele 4-10 5-5 13, Brittany Deffinbaugh 0-1 0-0 0, Jennifer Simons 0-3 0-0 0, Frankie Brady 0-0 0-0 0, Marissa Francis 2-4 0-0 4, Stacey Erickson 0-0 0-0 0, Gina Schermele 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 35-66 12-15 85.
Total fouls: Havre 14, GFH 19. Fouled out: Galloway. Three-point goals: Havre 8 (Evans, Barnekoff, Solomon, McLain 2, Erhard 3), GFH 3 (Stubbs). Rebounds: Havre 34 (Hilliard 8, McLain 7), GFH 42 (Galloway 12, Schermele 9, Stubbs 6). Turnovers: Havre 15, GFH 12.