By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Although the Havre High girls basketball team suffered a serious blow to its regular season last Saturday with a loss at Butte Central, there is till plenty to accomplish in the last two weeks of the season.
Havre has two Central A conference games, both on the road, and the Ponies still have a home date with a very good Malta team this Saturday.
The Ponies are still fighting for seeding for the upcoming Central A divisional tournament in Belgrade and that fight begins tonight when they travel to Lewistown to take on old nemesis at 7:30 at the Fergus High School gymnasium.
The Ponies are 7-8 overall and 3-5 in conference play. But Havre still has a chance to finish as high as second or as low as sixth in the final regular season standings, depending on what transpires over the next two weekends.
But tonight, Havre High head coach Jason Wirt is thinking only of playing well in Lewistown and hoping that that can carry over to Saturday night when the Malta M-Ettes come calling.
"The big thing about playing Lewistown is that we are probably going to end up playing them at the divisional tournament," Wirt said. "So we obviously want to go in there and play well. The kids are always excited to play Lewistown, and we are hoping to go in there and give them a tough test."
The Eagles have once again been the class of the Central A this season. They are undefeated in conference play and have just two losses, both coming at the hands of Class AA's No. 1-ranked team - Billings West.
Lewistown's only true test in which they were almost defeated by a Class A team came last month in Havre. In that game, the Ponies mounted a furious fourth-quarter comeback only to come just short of victory in the game's final minutes.
While Lewistown has rebounded nicely from that game, Wirt said the way his team played the first time around should give them confidence for tonight's rematch.
"We certainly don't fear Lewistown," he said. "They obviously have two of the best players in the Central A in Alira Carpenter and Sonya Rogers and they are a very solid team. But our kids believe they can stay with them, and that is what we are going to try to do on Friday night."
If the Ponies are to upset the Eagles, they will need to get off to a much better start in the first quarter. Havre has had the lead only three times this season after the first period, and while they have been in many tight games this season, slow starts have been one of the Ponies biggest Achilles' heels this year.
"We definitely need to play well for four quarters," Wirt said. "But I think the big key to this game is containing their two shooters. We have to make sure we defend well and force those two to make tough shots and really work hard for their points. If we can defend them well, we should be in good shape."
When the Ponies return from Lewistown on Saturday they will find the Malta M-Ettes waiting for them on senior night at the HHS gymnasium.
Before the game Havre High will honor seniors Amy McLain, Justin Erhard, Whitney Barnekoff and Becca Hilliard. While Wirt has only been their coach for one season, he has no trouble singing the praises of his seniors.
"These seniors have been great to coach this year," Wirt said. "I know it was tough for them to have to go through the changes of having a new coach, but they accepted it and they have done everything we have asked of them this year.
"They are a great group and they are very coachable kids," he added. "This school will certainly miss them."
When the game gets under way, Wirt expects his team to be in another tough battle. The Ponies managed to escape Malta with a slim victory last month, but according to Wirt the M-Ettes are a very formidable opponent.
Malta features a talented trio of guards led by sophomore Kelly Pankratz and senior Roshon Nordlund, while freshman Laramie Schwenke has also come on strong as of late.
"Malta is a very good basketball team," Wirt said. "The big thing with them is containing their guards. If you can slow them down, then you can have some success against them. But all three of them are very good players and it will be another tough test for our team."
Tonight's game between Havre and Lewistown will tip off at p.m. in Lewistown. Senior night at the HHS gymnasium featuring Havre and Malta will tip off at 5 p.m.