Havre Daily News
Down three to the Great Falls High Bison with just under 15 seconds remaining, the Havre Blue Ponies had one final chance to tie the game and send it into overtime. The Ponies had gone toe to toe all night with the Bison and now it came down to one shot, one final prayer.
Unfortunately for the Ponies, Jared Weigel's desperation 3-pointer fell short in the final seconds to seal their fate and give the Bison a narrow, 57-53 win Thursday night at the HHS gymnasium.
The Ponies came into the game looking to earn some respect by knocking off class AA rival GFH, and the win also would have given the Ponies a shot to win back the Ole Goat trophy.
Now the they are left to wonder what might have been.
“I am happy with the way the kids played,” HHS head coach John Barnhorst said. “They played hard and they never gave up. They had chances to put us away, but the kids just kept battling and battling. We just didn't make enough plays at the end to win. We had our chances but we just didn't get it done.”
The Ponies got off to shaky start as they were marred by turnovers early and quickly fell behind 6-0 in the first quarter. Behind the sharp outside shooting of Weigel and Jeremy Giardina, Havre rallied to within one point at the end of the first stanza.
The second quarter was owned by GFH junior Bobby Howard as he poured in 11 points in the period, attacking the Ponies both inside and outside. The Bison wound up leading by five points at halftime, 34-29.
“We felt pretty good at halftime,” Barnhorst said. “To only be down five after the way we played in the first half was a positive. We felt like we could play much better in the second half.”
Early in the second half it seemed that the Bison would pull away as they pushed their lead to seven points after another Howard basket.
Then Eric Chaon was called for a technical foul, and that seemed to swing the momentum in Havre's favor.
However, the Ponies couldn't take advantage, and just when they got within five at 45-40, Shaun Tatarka drilled a half-court shot at the buzzer that killed the momentum the Ponies had built up and gave the Bison a 48-40 lead heading to the final stanza.
Tatarka's shot could have been the final dagger that killed the Ponies' chances of victory, but to the Bison's dismay Havre never went away.
The Ponies stormed out of the gates in the fourth quarter and pounced on a Great Falls team that had seemingly let up just enough to give the Ponies a slight opening for a comeback.
The Ponies trailed by six when Giardina scored five consecutive points to bring the Ponies back to within one point.
Mike Barton would finally give the Ponies their first lead since 11-10 when he put back an offensive rebound to send Havre ahead 51-50. The Ponies had opened the final period with an 11-2 run and now it was time for the Bison to respond, and respond they did.
Not long after falling behind, the Bison turned to Howard, who got to the free-throw line and made both to put the Bison back up 52-51. Then Tatarka would nail another cold-blooded jumper to increase the lead to three, with just minutes to play.
Jeremiah Moog brought the Ponies within one with less than a minute to play, but after Howard hit two clutch free throws, the Bison led by three with 30 seconds to go.
After the Bison blocked a Weigel attempt at a trey, the Ponies called timeout and set up the final shot.
The Ponies' last gasp for tying the game fell painfully short and the Bison escaped with a dramatic road win.
“Havre has a good team,” Great Falls High head coach Bob Howard said. “They have some kids who can play and they are a very well coached team.”
Said Barnhorst: “We played better in the second half, especially defensively. We just didn't execute on offense and in the end we didn't make enough plays to win.”
The Ponies were led by Giardina, who scored 23 points on the night and kept the Ponies in it with his clutch perimeter shooting. Weigel also had a big night for the Ponies as he poured in 16 points. Barton contributed with five points and 11 rebounds.
The Bison were led by Howard's game-high 26 points. Tatarka scored 12 points.
“We missed a lot of opportunities to win this game tonight,” Barnhorst said. “We turned it over a lot, and we missed a lot of free throws. But the kids competed hard and they never gave up. I am really proud of the way we competed tonight.”
Havre will be back in action tonight when they travel to Cut Bank. Tipoff for the game between the Ponies and Wolves is slated for 7:30. Havre will return home to face Browning on Saturday at 5 p.m.
Great Falls High 57, Havre 53
Havre- 11 18 11 13 - 53
Great Falls- 12 22 14 9 - 57
Havre - Jeremiah Moog 4, Scott Miller 1, Jeremy Giardina 23, Jared Weigel 16, Tanner Veis 4, Mike Barton 5.
GFH - Kevin McKittrick 2, Jerry Schmitz 9, Bobby Howard 26, Shaun Tatarka 12, Kody Swartz 6, Kurt Bosley 3.
3-point goals: Havre 6 (Giardina 4, Weigel 2) Great Falls 5 (Howard 2, Tatarka 2, Schmitz 1).