George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
There weren't many moments of trepidation for the Havre High girls basketball team in its challenge game with the Lewistown Eagles. But when the Eagles trimmed a large HHS lead to just four points midway through the fourth quarter, the Blue Ponies might have had cause for concern. However, junior Hope Hedges, who has hit crucial shots for HHS in the least three weeks of the season, nailed a 3-pointer right after Lewistown had seized momentum, and the Ponies went on a 9-0 run to put the Eagles away, and win 40-28 in a Central A challenge game Monday night at the CMR Fieldhouse in Great Falls. "That was obviously big for us," HHS head coach Dustin Kraske said of Hedge's key 3-pointer. "Hope did a nice job of sliding off the top and getting open and Katie got her the ball. "I think you really have to give a lot of credit to our seniors and their leadership," he added. "They've been down that road before and even when Lewistown was up on us early, or when they were coming back, there was just no panic in our kids at all. They stayed composed." The win over Lewistown vaulted HHS into its second straight Class A state tournament, where the Blue Ponies will take on Northwest A champion Bigfork on March 6 in Hamilton. "I'm really happy for our kids," Kraske said. "They work awful hard and I really believe we are one of the best eight teams in the state. So it's nice that we get to go and be one of those top eight teams, and although we know state is going to be tough, we're excited to be going and we're looking forward to going down there and playing Bigfork." Last season at the state tournament, HHS knocked off heavily-favored Anaconda in the first round in Belgrade, before losing to Miles City and Bigfork. And now, thanks to a three crucial scoring runs throughout Monday night's game, the Ponies will get a chance to knock off another strong team in the state tournament next week. Early in the first quarter of Monday night's contest, the Ponies fell behind Lewistown, a team HHS swept in the regular season. Lewistown started off strong, jumping out to a 10-7 lead in the first quarter. But HHS responded by going on a 13-3 run in the second quarter, which was capped off by a 3-point play by senior Katie Mariani as the Ponies led 20-15 at halftime. In the third quarter, HHS went on another 10-0 run in the third quarter, and its defensive pressure, which has been some of the best in Class A all season, forced Lewistown into turnovers and bad shots. Mariani scored six points during the run, and HHS had commanding 30-21 lead heading into the fourth quarter. In all, HHS's defense helped its offense by holding the Eagles to just 11 points between the second and third quarters. "I think defensively, it was a total team effort," Kraske said. "They like to go inside, that's a big part of their offense. And I thought everyone did a real nice job of pressuring them and taking away some of what they do. And in order to do what we did defensively, it takes everybody on the team. So it was just a nice all-around effort by our whole team." But as poorly as Lewistown played in those two periods, the Eagles didn't go out without a fight. They clawed back into the game by scoring five straight points to open the final stanza. But Hedge's three, and HHS's subsequent run, was too much for Lewistown to overcome in the final minutes. HHS was balanced on offense on Monday night, getting 10 points from senior Steph Stremcha, as well as nine points and seven rebounds from Mariani. Hedges and senior guard Tricia Samson helped HHS's cause with seven points a piece. Lewistown, which finished the season with an 11-12 overall record, got 14 points and eight rebounds form Josie Sweeney in the loss. Havre (15-6) will now join Livingston as the Central A's representatives in the Class A state tournament for the second straight year. The state tournament will run March 6-8 in Hamilton.