Daniel Horton Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
It looked like two different Havre High girls basketball teams playing this weekend, but even with two almost opposite games the Blue Ponies were able to build their win streak to four. On Friday the Ponies were on the road where they defeated their conference rival Browning Indians in overtime 73-71, and on Saturday they were back in the Havre High gymnasium where they defeated the Class B Conrad Cowgirls 50-26. After this weekend's two wins the Ponies improved to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in league play, where they are currently holding down second place in the Central A Division. Going into Friday night's matchup the Ponies knew that the Indians 1-6 record didn’t truly portray what kind of team they were. And after an explosive second half by the Indians, the Ponies almost learned that first hand. Both teams were hot on offense at different times which caused high scoring and back-and-forth lead changes. But while both teams displayed their offensive ability, neither team really stayed consistent on defense. HHS came out and opened the game with a 14-8 first quarter lead, and carried it through the second quarter to take a 28-23 lead before halftime. The Ponies were clicking on offense, and Sarah Blessum ended the night with 13 points after having an outstanding first half. But coming out of the lockerroom to start the third quarter, the tables had been turned as the Indians went on to score 27 points. And in the meantime, the Indians held the Ponies to only 12 points. The Indians now led the Ponies 50-40 with one quarter to play. “That was pretty uncharacteristic of our team.” Havre High head coach Dustin Kraske said. “We had to score to keep up and our kids did that. I thought we showed a lot of mental toughness down the stretch. We were fortunate to come out of there with a win.” The fourth quarter got under way and as the Ponies defense stepped up, holding the Indians to 13 points, it seemed that their hot hand on offense had returned as they put up 23 points. Karly Evans hit two big 3-point shots down the stretch, and Hope Hedges managed the offense very well, penetrating the Indians' zone defense and kicking the ball back out for the open shot. Hedges dished the ball out, but also pitched in 12 points on the night. The Ponies big fourth quarter comeback tied the game up at 67-67, and sent the game into overtime, where the Ponies outscored the Indians 10-8 to walk away with the win. On the night the Ponies had four players in double figures. Along with Blessum and Hedges, Cassi Darrah led the way with a game-high 24 points and Hayley Donovan had 14. Freshman Shanae Gilham was a known threat for the Ponies but she still found a way to get on the scoreboard. Gilham ended the game with 21 points to lead the Indians' three double figure scorers. “She (Gilham) is real good.” Kraske said. “She’s a great player. It will be fun watching her develop over the next three years. She is legit.” HHS walked away with the win in dramatic fashion on Friday night, but Saturday’s 50-26 win over the Cowgirls was more straightforward. “I was happy with our kids.” Kraske said. “I thought they played a pretty good effort. We will take it regardless. Good, bad, ugly, sad or whatever, a wins a win.” The Ponies started the game with high intensity by going on a 14-4 run. And Darrah’s eight points led the way to a 21-8 lead after the first quarter. But even with a productive second quarter from the Ponies, the momentum and tempo began to come to a halt. “It was just that type of game.” Kraske said. “I don’t think that it was necessarily anything they did, it could have been us more than anything. We got a little complacent maybe.” Defense was still holding strong for the Ponies, holding the Cowgirls to only five third-quarter points. But the Ponies came out and had a lot of turnovers and missed a lot of shots. The Ponies scored six points in the third, four of them coming in the last two minutes. “We did what we needed to do.” Kraske said. “Fortunately the game was kind of out of reach at that time. We maybe cruise controlled a little bit too much.” Fourth quarter play was better for the Ponies. They were able to improve on their offensive production with 13 points, and also get more players off of the bench and into the game. Darrah was the only Pony in double digit scoring with 13 points, and once again led their scoring efforts. Evans added eight, Cali Freier added seven and Donovan and Hedges both had six. The second-place Ponies (6-2, 4-1) play again tonight as they travel to Great Falls to take on the CMR Rustlers at 7:30 p. m. The meeting between the Ponies and Rustlers was previously scheduled for Jan. 2, but after an early winter storm moved into the area, play was postponed. The Rustlers lost quite a few seniors to graduation a year ago, but are still a tough team. They are young, but are athletic and play sound basketball. “I wouldn’t say that they are ever in a rebuilding state.” Kraske said. “Their kids are always up and ready to go, and I know that we are going to have a battle on our hands.” HHS will also be facing a Rustlers team that is big and physical down low The Ponies will be up against a powerful zone defense that likes to force teams into pulling up and shooting the ball from the perimeter. But in past weeks the Ponies have found a lot of their offensive success coming from their post players, and will need to find a way to keep them involved. “When a team plays zone they are daring you to shoot it.” Kraske said. “We are going to have to come up with a nice balance. I don’t think that you can primarily rely on one and be successful.” The Ponies have the momentum of their four-game winning streak propelling them into tonight, but anytime you are on the road against a tough opponent you can expect to be tested. A balanced offense is key for the Ponies success, but so is matching the Rustlers physicality on defense. “We are going to have to be at our best.” Kraske said. “They are a real good team. It’s going to be a challenge, but I know our kids will be up to the challenge.” Tonight the Ponies and Rustlers tip off at 7:30 p.m. in Great Falls.