Blue Pony boys and girls basketball teams host Belgrade and Livingston in critical Central A doubleheaders
Chris Peterson Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
When the Havre High boys and girls basketball teams take the floor in backto- back games at the HHS gymnasium tonight, both Blue Pony teams will be looking to rebound from difficult defeats, as well as to make a statement in a pair of crucial conference games. Both HHS teams will play back-toback Central A doubleheaders starting tonight with Belgrade. Livingston visits the HHS gymnasium on Saturday afternoon. The Havre High girls come into tonight’s game with the Belgrade Panthers fresh off a narrow defeat at the hands of Malta, the top-ranked team in Class B, on Tuesday night. The Ponies were marred by a sluggish start that they never fully recovered from, eventually resulting in a four-point home loss to the M-Ettes. “We will play better this week at the beginning of the game,” HHS head coach Dustin Kraske promised. “It is something that we have talked about the last couple of days in practice and I expect that we’ll come out better prepared to start the game.” Not that Havre needs any extra motivation to play well this weekend against Central A conference foes Belgrade and Livingston, but a win over Belgrade as well as a win over first-place Livingston, would give HHS sole possession of the top spot in the league. Havre trounced the Panthers in the first match up by the score of 74-35 in Belgrade in December. The Ponies controlled the game from start to finish with five players finishing in double figures. Havre was led by Hope Hedges, who scored 13 points and also racked up 11 steals. The Ponies also held Belgrade (4-5 overall, 2-3 conference) in check offensively, limiting the Panthers without a double-digit scorer. In fact, on the season the Panthers don’t have a single player that averages double figures in scoring, as Lyndsey Green is the teams’ top scorer at seven points per game. Brittney Larsen is second on the team in scoring at just over six points a game. “I think that the girls are going to be really fired up to play,” Kraske said. “They know that conference games are important and I think they are really excited to get out there and compete.” On Saturday, the Pony girls will square off against Livingston (7-2 overall, 4-1 conference) in a highly anticipated rematch of a classic 56-55 overtime win for the Rangers back in December. “It should be a really great game,” Kraske said. “We feel pretty good about how we are playing right now and I think that the two teams match up fairly well with each other. So it should be exciting to watch.” Livingston opened the year on a roll, by winning its first five games. However, the Rangers have fallen into a bit of rut lately, dropping two of their last four with both losses coming on the road. Even though, they have struggled a bit recently on the offensive end, the Rangers still boast the Central A’s leading scorer and arguably the top post player in the league. Brianna Ackerman is a complete player that averages over 15 points a game as well a five steals, five assists and four rebounds. She is also dangerous from the 3-point line, shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Add Sara Meyer, who averages 13 points a game and well over eight rebounds a game and you have quite possibly the most lethal inside-out combination in the entire conference. To answer, the Ponies will rely on leading scorer Katie Mariani, point guard Tricia Samson, Hedges and Steph Stremcha. Mariani averages nearly 14 points per game. Samson and Hedges both average around eight points, followed by reserve Sarah Blessum, who averages seven a game. Stremcha and fellow post player Lena Suek will also be counted on to play solid defense and keep Meyer off the boards. Meanwhile, the Havre High boys will also be in action tonight at the HHS gymnasium against the Belgrade Panthers. Belgrade (2-7 overall, 1-4 conference) knocked off the Ponies 57-48 in the first contest between the two teams in Belgrade. But since that game, the Panthers have struggled mightily, dropping six out of their last seven games. “We really didn’t play very well the first time we played them,” HHS head coach John Barnhorst said. “They really hurt us on the boards and they also gave us some problems with full court pressure, that we didn’t handle very well.” Belgrade is a grind-it-out, half-court team that relies heavily on defense and rebounding to be successful. No Panther averages in double figures even though Kole Mickolio, Jimmy Hook and Mike Haderline all average over eight points per game. “I think if we can just take care of the ball and rebound it well we will give ourselves a good chance to win,” Barnhorst said. “The kids know how important these games are and they are excited to play.” On Saturday, the Ponies will look to complete a season sweep of Livingston, who they soundly defeated 60-42 in Livingston back in December. The Rangers (2-8 overall, 1-4 conference) will need a big game from leading scorer Rex Allen, who averages 14 points per game for them if they are going to have a chance on Saturday. Havre (2-7 overall, 1-4 conference) will look to top scorer Chris Brandt to lead they way offensively, and the Ponies will also rely on Jeremiah Moog, who is second on the team in scoring and rebounding. Havre, Livingston and Belgrade are all currently tied for fourth place in the Central A, and the results of this weekend’s games will surely go a long way towards where each team stands in the conference race with the divisional tournament looming. “We have to very winnable games ahead of us this weekend,” Barnhorst said. “And if we could go out there and get a couple of wins, I think it would give us a lot of confidence and maybe we could get on a little roll before the end of the season. “Because our conference is wide open right now,” he added. “If we could just get some momentum, we might be able to get something going.” The Havre High boys will play tonight against Belgrade at 5:30 and tomorrow against Livingston at 2 p.m. The HHS girls will face Belgrade tonight at 7 and Livingston Saturday at 3:30 p.m.