Havre Daily News
It's another big weekend of basketball for both the Havre High girls and boys basketball teams. And even though the opponents the Ponies are facing are the same, the meaning of the games is entirely different.
The Havre High girls basketball team has been on a roll as of late, winning its last eight games, capped off by the Ponies' upset victory over the highly touted Great Falls High Bison last Saturday.
The Ponies (6-1 conference, 10-4 overall) will look to continue their recent hot streak as they play host to the Butte Central Maroons tonight at 7 at the HHS gymnasium.
A win over the Maroons would not only extend the Ponies' current winning streak to nine games, but it would also keep hope alive for a regular-season conference title.
“This is a big game for no other reason than if we win we are assured of the number two spot in the tournament,” head coach Jason Wirt said. “We are playing with a lot of confidence right now and that is something that we want to keep going. The game is also meaningful because we still have a chance to be conference champs, which is a stepping stone to becoming divisional champions.”
The Maroons, who come into this game winless on the season, were defeated 68-49 by the Ponies three weeks ago in Butte. The Ponies were led in that game by Alexa Lipp and Keelie Solomon's 13 points apiece.
Due to the fact that they are winless, the Maroons come into this game with nothing to lose and everything to gain. That is a formula that can sometimes be dangerous, especially late in the season.
“Right now we are playing with a lot of confidence, but we are not cocky and we are not overlooking anybody at this point in the season,” Wirt said. “Butte Central is a young and inexperienced team, but they play hard and compete well. I expect a good game.”
The Ponies are led by Steph Flatau, who averages 13 points a game to go along with her conference leading 12.9 rebounds a game. The Ponies also get big contributions from Lipp, who averages 11.2 point per game, and Solomon, who does a little bit of everything for the Ponies, averaging 8.4 points per game to go along with 3.6 boards and 2.3 steals.
“We need to get off to a good start early on and set the tone,” Wirt said. “We don't want to let them gain confidence early on. We just have to go out there and play hard and compete.
“Right now no one is talking about us or giving us very much credit,” he added. “So, we are just going to play with a chip on our shoulder and play with something to prove until people realize that we are a good basketball team.”
Tonight the Havre High boys basketball team heads to Butte to take on the Butte Central Maroons in a critical late-season conference matchup.
The No. 2 Maroons, who handed the Ponies their only conference loss of the season, 75-61 back on Jan. 7, can essentially wrap up the conference title if they complete a season sweep of Havre.
However, if the Ponies can avenge their early-season loss to the Maroons, they would find themselves in a tie for first place with Butte Central. The Ponies would also have a chance to earn at least a share of the regular- season title.
“This is going to be a good test for us,” HHS head coach John Barnhorst said. “After we played them the first time we knew that they were the better team and we knew what we needed to do to get to their level. Now the time has come to see if we have made the improvements that we needed to make.”
The Ponies (6-1 conference, 9-5 overall) come into the contest on a two-game losing skid and facing a critical stretch of three straight conference road games at Butte Central, Lewistown and Browning to finish the season.
So, even though this is probably not a must-win game for the Ponies, it is critical that the Ponies play well. Otherwise their already shaky confidence level could be completely crushed.
“I wouldn't say that this is a must-win game for us, but it is a very important game,” Barnhorst said. “It is going to be a big game for our confidence level and it could say a lot about where we are as a team right now. It could be the turning point in our season.”
The Ponies are led by the talented tandem of Jeremy Giardina, who leads the conference in scoring at 19.4 points per game, and Jared Weigel, who is a big-time contributor with 15.3 points per game.
The final piece of the puzzle for the Ponies is their big man in the middle, Mike Barton, who averages 10.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Throughout the season there has often been a direct correlation between the play of Barton and the overall play of the Ponies, meaning that when Barton plays well all is usually right for the Ponies.
The Maroons counter with their own talented trio of Shaughn McKeon, Matt Pokorny and Alex Murphy, who combine to average 38.5 points per game.
Another telling statistic in the game will be turnovers. The Ponies average 18 turnovers per game, compared with eight turnovers a game for the Maroons. If Havre is going to have a chance to win, it must take care of the ball and not give the Maroons extra possessions.
“Mike is going to have to play well for us,” Barnhorst said. “And we have to take care of the ball and we can't give up open looks because those are a killer against a team that shoots as well as they do.”
One thing is for sure: This is a measuring-stick game for the Ponies. Tonight's game is by far their biggest test.
Tonight's game between the Ponies and Maroons will get under way at 7:30 p.m. in Butte.