Chris Peterson Havre Daily News email@example.com
Once again the Havre High girls basketball team proved that the only size that matters is the size of your heart, as the Blue Ponies knocked off a bigger, stronger Bigfork team in the quarterfinals of the Class A State tournament. Not only did the Ponies earn a spot in the state semifinals with their win over Bigfork, but the win also enabled them to enact some revenge on the Valkyries, who eliminated Havre from last year’s state tournament. The 41-39 victory by HHS in Hamilton on Thursday will pit the Ponies against Anaconda in a rematch of last season’s state quarterfinal game, which was won by Havre. The highly competitive contest between HHS and Bigfork came down to the final seconds on Thursday. Havre, which got off to an extremely slow start offensively and quickly fell behind 8-0, battled back behind a brilliant second-half performance by Katie Mariani to build a 37-31 lead after a Hope Hedges lay-up with just 4:30 left in the fourth quarter. However, the Ponies failed to put the Vals away, making just 4-of-10 free throws down the stretch. Then, 6-2 senior forward Alyssa Fierro helped spark a late Bigfork comeback by scoring with 1:45 to go then again with 1:06 remaining as the HHS lead was trimmed to 40-39 with less than a minute to play. Following a Hedges free throw that pushed the lead to 41-39, Bigfork took possession of the ball with just 16 seconds remaining. With time winding down, Fierro attempted a seven-footer from just inside the elbow, but the shot was no good and the game was over. “The shot by Fierro looked good in the air, but the rotation must have been off a bit cause it bounced in and out. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be,” HHS head coach Dustin Kraske said. “Our guards did a great job of pressuring them and then Steph (Stremcha) was able to push (Fierro) out to the elbow. It was a great win and a total team effort.” Fierro, who caused Havre plenty of problems when to the two teams hooked up last year in the state tournament, was a big concern. Yet, the Ponies held the dominating post player to a reasonable 13 points. “We played a little different defense than we have played all year,” Kraske explained. “(Stremcha) guarded her for most of the game, but we always tried to put a player in front and behind her.” Meanwhile, Mariani came up big again in the state tournament with 20 points, 18 of them coming in the second half. Last season Mariani poured in 26 points in the win over Anaconda. “Katie was outstanding,” Kraske said. “Bigfork played a 1-3-1 against us almost the entire game and she did a great job, with the help of her teammates, of finding the holes in the defense for open shots. She got some open looks in the first half, she just started knocking them down second half.” Stremcha, Tricia Samson and Hayley Donovan all contributed with six points apiece in the victory. Mariani’s play was a big key in the win, but the Ponies' team defense was just as important in deciding the outcome. After allowing Bigfork to shoot 56 percent in the first half, the Havre defense stiffened in big way by not allowing a field goal for the first 13:35 of the second half. The Ponies also forced Bigfork into 21 turnovers, while committing only five turnovers themselves. “Our defense was just outstanding,” Kraske said. “Our guards did a great job of getting up in their faces and I think we put a lot more pressure on them than they are used to and they struggled to adjust to it.” The Ponies will now turn their attention to the Anaconda Copperheads, who boast Ali Hurley, arguably the best player in Class A girls basketball. Anaconda advanced to the semifi- nals after eliminating defending Class A state champion Miles City in the on Thursday by the score of 64-56. “We have a big challenge on our hands,” Kraske said. “Anaconda was very impressive in the first game and Hurley is a tremendous player. But even though we are a shorter team, they are going to have to defend us as well.” Havre and Anaconda will meet with a berth in Class A state championship game hanging in the balance tonight in Hamilton at 6:30.