Havre High upsets top-ranked Anaconda, plays Miles City in State A semifinals tonight
Chris Peterson Havre Daily News email@example.com
On the biggest stage in Class A girls basketball, the Havre High Blue Ponies proved once and for all that in basketball, size really doesn’t matter. The Ponies, who are small in stature but large in talent and determination, upset the highly-touted and top-ranked Anaconda Copperheads (19-2) 65-60 in the opening round of the Class A state tournament Thursday at the Special Events Center in Belgrade. The victory means Havre will advance to the semifinal round where the Ponies will meet Eastern A stalwart Miles City tonight at 7. “I just can’t say enough about these girls,” HHS head coach Dustin Kraske said. “They are a salty group of kids and they showed up ready to play.” Havre (17-5) fell behind 6-0 to start the game, but didn’t trail for long, catching fire in the second quarter from beyond the arc and taking the lead and control of the game in the process. Down 16-15 midway through the second period, Katie Mariani got hot, drilling a 3-pointer and another jumper to put the Ponies ahead 20-15. Then, after five consecutive points by sophomore Sarah Blessum, Mariani drilled another three to give HHS its largest lead of the first half at 28-20, capping off a 13-4 run. “We knew that if we could shoot the ball well that we were going to be tough to beat,” Kraske said. “We struggled a little bit offensively in the first quarter, but we really found our rhythm in the second quarter. And the way Katie played made it extremely difficult for them to guard her.” The Ponies eventually held a 30-26 lead at the half, but the Copperheads narrowed the lead to 33-30 after a pair of baskets by Cara Laslovich. But the Ponies answered, and when Tricia Samson buried a trey later on in the period, the HHS lead was back to eight points at 43-35. Sammie Barkell pulled Anaconda within two points at 49-47 after a layup, but Mariani came through in the clutch again with a 3-pointer on the final possession of the third stanza which gave the Ponies a 52-47 edge entering the fourth quarter. “It seemed like every time they made a run at us we were able to respond,” Kraske explained. “Whether it was by hitting a shot or getting a defensive stop, but we came up with a big play whenever we needed one.” HHS grabbed its biggest lead of the contest after Hope Hedges and Samson each hit a pair of free throws to go up 56-47. But the Ponies had to withstand one final run. The Copperheads went on a 10-1 run, which included two treys by Torry Hill and two baskets inside by Ali Hurley. The run cut the HHS advantage down to one point at 58-57 with just under three minutes remaining. Following a free throw by Samson, Anaconda had three straight possessions with a chance to tie the game or take the lead, but thanks to a tremendous effort by the Pony defense, the Copperheads were unable to convert. Samson hit two more free throws to push the lead to 61-57 and Anaconda had another chance to tie the game with a little over a minute to play as Maddy Walker hit a basket and earned a chance to tie the game at the free-throw line after stealing an inbounds pass. But Walker missed both attempts and then following an offensive rebound, Hurley connected on just 1-of-2 free throws keeping the HHS lead intact at 61-60. Samson hit two more free throws to push the lead to three points and Anaconda had one final shot to tie the game, but Hurley’s 3-point attempt was blocked by junior Stacey Sheppard, preserving the score and the victory for the Ponies. “We just did what we had to do down the stretch,” Kraske said. “Stacey Sheppard really stepped up and made a great play on that block and then we were able to convert on the free-throw line.” Mariani had a career night for the Ponies, hitting four 3-pointers on her way to a game-high 27 points. Samson also poured in 20 points for Havre thanks in large part to the free-throw line where she was 11-of-16 for the game. Havre held Hurley, a 6-1 All-State forward to just 11 points in the game. Hill also notched 11 points for the Copperheads and Laslovich managed just eight points. “We played with an attitude on defense,” Kraske said. “Everybody defended well. It wasn’t just one or two kids, it was a total team effort.” In other action at the state tournament on Thursday, Miles City advanced into the semifinal by defeating Columbia Falls 69-42. Glendive upset Bigfork 58-48 to move into the semifinals where the Red Devils will take on Central A champion Livingston. The Rangers upended Dillon 37-29. HHS and Miles City will play in the first semifinal tonight at 7, followed by Livingston and Glendive at 8:30. The winners will advance to the state championship game,which will take place on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. All games will be played at the Belgrade Special Events Center.