Havre Daily News
The Havre High girls basketball team is on the road tonight. This time the stop is in Lewistown, where the Ponies look to bury the past and begin to write a new chapter in this old rivalry.
The Lewistown Eagles have owned the Ponies in girls basketball the past few years. But with a new year comes new hope that this may be the season things turn around.
If the Ponies can go on the road and beat the Eagles in their own building, it would be much more than a morale booster or a big win. It would be payback for all the HHS teams of the past few years that have fallen to Lewistown. And it would also be a signal that this rendition of the Blue Ponies is beginning to come of age.
“Getting a win against Lewistown would be big for us,” HHS head coach Jason Wirt said. “It's going to be tough. It's tough to win in their gym and we haven't won there for a long time. So, hopefully we can come out and respond and overcome those obstacles.”
The stakes get even higher when you consider the fact that the two teams are separated by just a mere half game in the Central A standings, and that the winner will take sole possession of second place.
For the Ponies, the game has even a little added meaning due to the fact that a win would improve their conference road record to 4-0 and their overall conference record to 4-1. That would be huge, with four out of Havre's final five conference games coming at home.
Wirt knows that with a win tonight, the Ponies will be in a very favorable position.
“Getting another conference road win would be huge,” Wirt said. “We would also be able to put them (Lewistown) another game behind us to finish in the top two.”
If the Ponies are going to claim victory, they are going to have to handle the pressure that Lewistown is most certainly going to put on them. The full-court pressure has been something the Ponies have struggled with in the past, and it is something they will need to overcome if they are going to be victorious.
“We have focused on beating their pressure all week,” Wirt said. “It is definitely going to be one of the big keys to the game.”
The Ponies will be led in the contest by standout senior Steph Flatau, who does just about anything and everything for the Ponies. She leads the team in both points with 13.1 per game and rebounds with 14 rebounds per game. She has been a big key to the Ponies' success all season long, and oftentimes, as she goes, so goes her team.
In addition to Flatau, the Ponies will be looking for continued big things out of a pair of seniors in Alexa Lipp and Keelie Solomon.
Lipp, who averages 10.6 points per game, is the team's second leading scorer and has been able to spark the team all year long with her sharp outside shooting. She is nailing 3-pointers at a 43 percent clip on the season.
Solomon, who averages exactly 10 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game, gives the Ponies an experienced leader who contributes to the team with her all-around consistent play.
The Ponies will also look to get key contributions from Tricia Samson, Kelsey Evans and Lena Suek.
Despite the Eagles having the home-court advantage, the Ponies have the edge in experience and that could be the determining factor. Lewistown lost the bulk of its championship team of a year ago, including standouts Alira Carpenter and Sonya Rogers. The duo helped guide the Eagles to back-to-back Class A state championships. Both are now playing college basketball, with Rogers at the University of Montana and Carpenter at Montana State University-Billings. “We are more experienced than they are and that gives us a slight edge,” Wirt said. “They just have not had as many varsity minutes. We just have more depth and varsity experience.”
On Saturday night, the Ponies will return to the friendly confines of the HHS gymnasium to play host to the Malta M-Ettes.
Malta has yet to lose this year and is a highly ranked Class B team that should present quite a challenge for the Ponies in a very intriguing nonconference clash.
“They have a lot of offensive firepower,” Wirt said. “They have two very talented players, and you have to choose whether or not you are going to try and make those two beat you, or make everyone else beat you. We have to try and keep their firepower in check and try and keep them somewhere in the 50s or 60s.”
Malta senior Kelly Pankratz and sophomore Laramie Schwenke are two of the top players in all of Class B.
The Ponies will surely be excited for the chance to play one of the top teams in Class B and they will have the advantage of playing on their home floor, an advantage they have not had a whole lot of so far this season.
“It's always nice to have the home-court advantage,” Wirt said. “We just play more relaxed and with more confidence when we play at home.”
If the Ponies have another advantage in this matchup, it lies in the amount of depth the Ponies have, or Malta's lack of depth. Havre's bench is loaded with good, young talent, and those players have begun to mature.
“We have had a lot of kids come off the bench and step up big for us,” Wirt said. “When you sub players in and there is no drop-off, that makes a huge difference.”
Tonight's game between Havre and Lewistown will tip off at 7:30 in Lewistown. Saturday's game with Malta will get under way at 5 p.m. at the HHS gymnasium.