by George Ferguson
One trip to Browning is all that stands between both the Havre High girls and boys basketball teams from the 2005 Central A divisional basketball tournament in Belgrade. And for each team, their final game of the regular season will have completely different implications.
Tonight, the HHS girls will be in Browning to take on the third-ranked Browning Indians (15-2) at 7:30 p.m. Browning has just two losses this season, one of which came at the hands of Havre back in late December.
But since that time, the Indians have been on a roll and the Ponies have been up and down. Tonight's game will mean much more to Havre than it will to Browning. The Indians already know they will be the No. 2 seed at the divisional tournament while the Ponies (3-6, 7-9) could wind up as high as the No. 4 seed or they could finish dead last depending on what happens in the conference this weekend. The only thing HHS head coach Jason Wirt knows for sure is that if his team wins tonight it will finish fourth. But Wirt is just hoping the Ponies play well in their final tune-up for the post season.
"We won't know how things stand for good until Sunday morning," Wirt said. "We just want to go down to Browning and play well because we need to make sure that we are playing good basketball heading into the divisional tournament."
Havre is coming off of a split last weekend against Lewistown and Malta and they do have the early season win over Browning. The Ponies are still getting a double-double out of junior Steph Flatau (11 ppg, 11 rpg) and they also get seven points a game from starters Amy McLain and Whitney Barnekoff as well as another seven points off the bench from junior Alexa Lipp. McLain is also leading the Central A in assists with six per outing.
Browning is led by do-everything guard Jenna Skunkcap, but sharpshooters Loris Whiteman and Joena Eaglefeathers give the Indians plenty of offensive punch. Whiteman was forced out of the first meeting with Havre when she collided with center Bobbi Woodworth and Eaglefeathers was also suspended at the time.
"This game will come down to how well we play offensively," Wirt said. "We have been a good defensive team all season. Browning will zone us a lot and they will also press us full court, so how we do will depend on how well we handle things offensively."
While the HHS girls team is still jockeying for divisional seeding, the No. 1-ranked HHS boys have had the top spot in the Central A wrapped up for weeks. The Ponies (15-2) have had their season on cruise control for the last two weeks and that might have aided in Havre's struggles last Saturday night in Malta. In that game, the Ponies had to come from behind in the fourth quarter to beat a Malta team that they drubbed by 40 points earlier this season.
Still, when the Ponies take the floor on Saturday night for their last regular season game against struggling Browning (5-12), they will be playing for their spot in Havre High history. The Ponies have a chance to put the finishing touches on a 16-win regular season which is something no HHS team has done since 1991 when Havre High went undefeated in the regular season. And that fact is not lost on HHS head man John Barnhorst.
"We still have a lot to play for," Barnhorst said recently. "We wanted to go undefeated at home and undefeated in conference play. Also 16 wins would be a great accomplishment for this team.
"We also want to make sure we stay sharp," he added. "It is important to maintain that level of good play even when the games don't mean as much and I think these kids understand that."
In their first meeting with Browning, the Ponies thrashed the Indians by 20-plus points. As it stands, only Andrew Sellers is averaging in double figures for an Indians team that is suffering it's worst regular season in more than a decade.
The Ponies counter Sellers with senior Ty Hedalen's 18 points and eight rebounds per game. Havre is also getting double digit scoring from junior Jared Weigel, who appears to be fully recovered from a severe ankle sprain he suffered two weeks ago. Senior's Marc Mariani and Gary Wagner are both averaging around nine points per game and Mariani leads the Central A in assists and steals.
Tonight the HHS girls will be in Browning and tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday night's boys game in Browning will tipoff at 5 p.m. and both games can be heard on 610 KOJM-AM.