Havre Daily News
It has been five long years since the Havre High girls basketball team has made it to the Class A State Tournament.
The Ponies are hoping this weekend in Belgrade at the Central A Divisional Tournament, the drought will finally come to an end.
Last year the Ponies hit a low point when they were eliminated from divisionals after just two games.
What a difference a year makes. The Ponies had a resurrection this season, going 13-5 overall and 8-2 in conference play - good enough for second place and a first-round bye.
Tonight Havre begins its state tournament quest when the Ponies tangle with Livingston at 7.
Not much was expected from the Ponies at the start of the year, and after beginning the season 2-4, it began to look as if the Ponies were headed for another down season.
However, the senior-laden HHS team refused to let its season go down the drain. The Ponies won 11 straight games and suddenly had the look of a state tournament contender.
Now the Ponies look to finish their long journey back to prominence by capping off a great season with a berth in the state tournament.
“We have had a great season and we have won a lot of games,” HHS head coach Jason Wirt said. “And now we are hoping that the success we've had can carry over into the postseason.”
The Ponies match up very well against the rest of the field at this weekend's Central A tournament. In fact, they have swept every team in the conference except for conference champion Browning.
Browning is undoubtedly the favorite to take home the divisional crown. The Indians are unbeaten on the year at 18-0 overall and 10-0 in conference play. No one from the Central A, not even Havre, has come within 10 points of beating the Indians.
The Indians are both skillful and intimidating, averaging more than 70 points a game and also blocking six shots a game. They wear teams out with their physical play, but they also score as well as anybody in the conference. “They pounded us on the glass in our last game,” Wirt said. “We gave up a ton of rebounds to them and they blocked 18 shots against us.”
Browning is paced by leading scorer Tahni Edmo, who averages 13.9 points per game. The team also gets big contributions from Jenna SkunkCap, Rikki Ollinger and Bobbi Woodworth.
The other team that may be able to steal the Ponies' state title berth is the Livingston Rangers.
The Rangers finished third in the conference with a 5-5 record and were 11-7 overall. Livingston did not defeat either Browning or Havre this season, but the Rangers are a solid team with enough talent to make some noise in Belgrade.
Livingston has a chance to do some damage in the tournament because the Rangers have the size needed to match up with both Havre and Browning.
The Rangers have a legitimate low-post presence in Sara Meyer, who averages a double-double with 13.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.
The Rangers also have Brianna Ackerman, who averages over 13 points a game and is their main perimeter scoring threat.
Outside of the top three teams, no one else can be considered a serious contender for one of the top two spots.
Belgrade is the host team and does have the home-court advantage. But the Panthers are a mediocre team. The Panthers are the fourth seed after going 4-6 in conference play, and they are 9-9 overall, with four of their wins over sub-Class A teams.
Lewistown is the defending state champion, but after a 4-14 season, including 2-8 in conference play, the Eagles' title defense likely will not last long.
The Eagles' biggest deficiency lies in scoring, as they have no player who scores in double figures, and as a team they average just 46 points a game.
“Their biggest problem is they have trouble scoring,” Wirt said. “They are still a pretty good defensive team, but they no longer have a dominating scorer like they have had in the past.”
Then there is Butte Central, which suffered through a miserable 1-17 season. The Maroons are a young team that is still a few years away from being competitive.
“No matter what, everyone has a chance come tournament time,” Wirt said. “That is the beauty of sports. Everyone has a chance. Everybody starts out with the same record.”
The Ponies come into the tournament playing better than anyone in the conference except for Browning. They have won 11 out of 12 games, with only one win by less than double digits.
The Ponies are led by four solid senior starters. Standout Steph Flatau averages 13.2 points per game and 12.7 rebounds a game. The Ponies also have a sharpshooter in Alexa Lipp, who averages more than 10 points a game. Keelie Solomon gives the Ponies a versatile defender who can also score, and Kelsey Evans runs the offense efficiently from the point guard position.
The Ponies will take on Livingston in the semifinals tonight, with the winner likely headed to the Class A state tournament.
The Ponies swept the Rangers during the regular season. The postseason is a whole different ball game and Livingston has a shot against the Ponies because they have the one thing Havre doesn't - size.
If the Rangers are going to knock off the Ponies this time around, they will need a big game from Meyer, who scored just 14 points total in the first two meetings.
“The one advantage they have because we beat them is that they know what we are going to do, but we don't necessarily know what they will do,” Wirt said. “So we are going to have to recognize their adjustments and make our own throughout the game.
“This is the game that we have been focusing on,” he added. “I hope that I am not putting too much emphasis on it, but this is the game we need to win to get to the state tournament. The season basically comes down to one or two games.”
The Central A tournament will continue through Saturday, with the consolation game on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. and the championship game Saturday night at 6:30.