Chris Peterson Havre Daily News email@example.com
The clock finally struck midnight on the Butte Central Maroons’ Cinderella run and the Havre Blue Ponies were the ones to end the Maroons’ dreams. After the Blue Ponies defeated the Maroons 43-35 in a Central A Divisional challenge game Monday night in Cascade, it will be the Ponies not the Maroons, heading to the Class A state tournament. HHS fell to Livingston in the Central A championship game on Saturday night in Butte which forced the Ponies to win one more game against Butte Central Monday to seal up the schools’ first state tournament berth since 2001. “It is what it is,” HHS head coach Dustin Kraske said of going to the state tournament. “I know the kids are excited about going. I know that it’s been a while since we have been there, but I would hope that we are not going to be satisfied by just getting there.” Havre flew out of the gates on Monday night, firing on all cylinders, and after opening the game on a 19-4 run, it appeared as though the challenge game would be anything but a challenge for the Ponies. But, the Maroons had other ideas. Butte Central proceeded to score four straight points to end the first quarter, bringing the Maroons to within 11 points at 19-8. They shaved another point off the deficit in the second quarter, and by halftime the Pony lead was down to 24-14. “(Butte Central) is a scrappy team,” Kraske said. “They just come out and played. They get up in your face and they don’t go away.” After scoring just five points in the second quarter, HHS’s offensive struggles continued in the third quarter as the Ponies managed just six points. And while Havre was ice cold, the Maroons were starting to heat up, and at the end of the third quarter, the Pony lead was down to 30-25. With the score 30-26 early in the final stanza, Katie Mariani tried to put the stubborn Maroons away for good by drilling a long two-pointer and a layup on consecutive possessions. Mariani’s baskets pushed the HHS lead to 34-26, but Butte Central refused to go down without a fight. Saidee Johnston drilled a 3-pointer from the baseline, and on the ensuing possession Hannah Manion connected on a pair of free throws to make the score 34-31 with just 3:38 left in the game. However, with clutch free throws down the stretch from Mariani, Hope Hedges and Tricia Samson, the Ponies made sure the Maroons never got any closer. “It was close at the end,” Kraske said. “But we made some big free throws down the stretch that put it away. “I am just really proud of the way the kids didn’t panic at the end of the game,” he added. “They kept their composure and took care of business.” Mariani led the Ponies with 13 points in the victory. Steph Stremcha also had a solid game, notching 10 points to go along with a team-high eight rebounds. Brooke Pokorny scored 10 points and tore down seven boards in the loss for Butte Central. Manion added 10 points in defeat. “We don’t like to do anything the easy way,” Kraske said. “But this team showed a lot of heart to come out and play the way they did coming off a tough loss. They came out tonight and they were ready to play.” HHS (16-6) will now advance to take on Anaconda in the first round of the Class A state tournament on Thursday at 1 p.m. in Belgrade. “We know that we are going to have to play one of the better teams in class A,” Kraske said. “But we’re also one of the better teams in Class A. We deserve to be in the state tournament.” Other first round matchups will include Miles City taking on Columbia Falls. Central A champion Livingston going head-to-head with Dillon and Bigfork going up against Glendive.