Havre Daily News
Determined to erase the memory of last season's failures at the Central A Divisional Tournament, the Havre High boys basketball team is out to make sure that history doesn't repeat itself.
Last season the Ponies entered the tournament as the top seed, and after a bye in the first round, were upset by Browning. The Ponies wound up finishing third in the tournament, which was not good enough to qualify for the state tournament.
This is a new year and the Ponies are a different team. They have some different players and a completely different mindset this time around.
Even if their first game at divisionals is against - who else - Browning.
“We have a few kids on the team that played last year and they want to make sure that it doesn't happen again this year,” HHS head coach John Barnhorst said. “We have some really strong senior leadership and this team is taking more of a businesslike approach to things this year.”
The Ponies finished second this season in the Central A Conference with an 8-2 record. Their only losses were to the Butte Central Maroons. Due to their second-place finish, the Ponies earned a bye into tonight's semifinals for the second straight season.
Havre matches up very well with the rest of the Central A, especially when you consider they have swept every other team besides the Maroons. The Ponies believe they have all the ingredients to walk away from this tournament as Central A divisional champions.
Havre is armed with its prolific scoring duo of Jared Weigel, who puts in 16.1 points a game, and Jeremy Giardina, who scores 17.8 points per game. They are the league's two leading scorers. The Ponies also have 6-8 Mike Barton, who is an intimidating low-post presence.
“We have a lot of confidence going into this tournament and our attitude is that we are going to take care of business one game at a time,” Barnhorst said. “Our goal is to win the tournament. But first we have to go out and take care of business in the semifinals. These kids know how important it is that we get the job done.”
If Havre wants to walk away with the title this weekend, they will no doubt have to knock off Butte Central.
The Maroons won the Central A Conference title this season with a perfect 10-0 record in conference play, also giving them the luxury of a first-round bye. The Maroons knocked off the Ponies twice this season, 75-61 in Havre, and 58-49 in Butte.
The Maroons are a veteran team that won the Central A divisional title a year ago, and came within a few points of being state champions. They are hoping to draw from that experience in order to make a similar run this year.
The Maroons are known for their balanced offensive attack led by their trio of double-digit scorers. Shaughn McKeon averages a team-high 13.4 points a game. Alex Murphy and Matt Pokorny are both big contributors and each averages double figures in points.
This balanced attack is part of what makes Butte Central so difficult to stop. However, Butte Central has not been dominating teams as of late as it had earlier in the season, prompting some to believe the Maroons' best basketball may be behind them.
“They are a very talented team and they are difficult to stop because they spread the floor and force teams to defend them,” Barnhorst said. “But I don't think that they are playing quite as well as they were at the start of the year. We lost to them in a close game down in Butte, so I think our kids have the confidence of knowing that we can play with them.”
If both Havre and Butte Central take care of business in the semifinals, the two teams would match up in what could be the tournament's most anticipated game.
The best candidate to play the role of spoiler this weekend may be the Lewistown Eagles. They finished third in the Central A with a 4-6 mark in conference and a 7-11 record overall. The Eagles may be a good pick to make some noise this weekend for one simple reason: They can light up the scoreboard.
Lewistown is a dangerous team because of its ability to score points in a hurry. The Eagles boast four double- digit scorers led by Evan Stokken, who scores 14.9 points a game. Stokken, along with Max Pearson, Colby Tognetti and Paul Buckentin, form a potent offensive attack.
Another team that has historically always put it together around tournament time is the Browning Indians. Browning has always been a team that loves to run and gun and this year's version of the Indians is no different.
Jordan Running Wolf leads an up-tempo attack with 14.9 points a game, and D.J. Fish provides the Indians with a good mix of scoring and rebounding.
The Belgrade Panthers, who finished fourth in the conference with a 3-7 record, hope its stellar defense and home-court advantage can somehow help them make some noise at divisionals. They are led by big man Jake Allmendinger, who leads the team in both points and rebounds with 12.4 points and 8.4 boards a game.
Livingston, which finished fifth in the conference with a 3-7 record, also struggled all season long, but the Rangers somehow hope to resurrect their season, mainly by way of the 3-point shot. The Rangers are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the conference, with Ryan Wulf and Johnny Kaiser leading the way.
The Ponies will face off against the Browning Indians in the semifinals tonight at 8:30 after Browning upset Lewistown in Thursday's opening round. The game will be a rematch of last year's semifinal game.
However, unlike last season, the Ponies seem to be playing their best basketball heading into the tournament, which is bad news for Browning.
Havre beat Browning just a week ago 59-47 and Barnhorst insists the Ponies will not be caught off guard, as they were a year ago.
“I think that the kids are more focused this year,” Barnhorst said. “Even last week when we played Browning, the kids went down with the attitude that they were not going to lose. They will not overlook anybody this year.”
The key to the game for the Ponies will be their defense. Both times they met Browning this season they were able to hold Running Wolf and Fish to under 10 points each. If the Ponies can do that again, they should have plenty of success. The Indians also have to find a way to contain Weigel, who averaged more than 20 points a game against the Indians this season.
The Central A Divisional Tournament continues through Saturday night in Belgrade, with the consolation game on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. and the championship game is slated for 8 p.m.