Daniel Horton Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The last time the Havre High girls basketball program won the state championship was in 1997, but after the way the Blue Ponies performed Thursday afternoon against the No. 1 Class A team in the state, the Ponies have to now be at the top of the list of new favorites. For the third straight year, HHS knocked off a top-ranked team in the first round of the Class A state tournament, this time the Ponies defeated the formally undefeated Glendive Red Devils 38-37 in a close first round upset that went down to the wire Thursday afternoon at the Butte Civic Center. “It’s near the top of biggest wins in the history of Havre High.” Havre High head coach Dustin Kraske said. “It’s the biggest win in my career. Glendive is a very good team, outstanding defensively and outstanding offensively.” But the victory was anything but easy for the underdog Ponies. HHS found itself down 8-0 late in the first quarter and down 8-3 after first eight minutes. During the first quarter of play the Ponies were 0-of-11 from the field, and didn’t get on the board until Sarah Blessum hit three free throws with :38 left to play. “We were in danger of scoring zero which wouldn’t have been impressive.” Kraske said. “But we were able to come back and attack with better spacing and shoot when we were open.” The Ponies began the second quarter with three more free throws, but still found themselves trailing 13-6. And it wasn’t until Hope Hedges landed a 3-point shot around the halfway point in the quarter when the Ponies' offense started to show signs of life. They ended the first half down 19-13, but after a slow start, the Ponies were able to find ways to get to the hoop and score. The Devils' Carly Selvig had a lot to do with the Ponies slow start on offense. She ended the half with five blocks, and was making it almost impossible for the Ponies to even step foot in the paint. “She is a great player.” Kraske said of Selvig. “She is one of the best players in the state, and that is in any class. She blocks everything around her and her timing is incredible.” But the Ponies also just didn’t shoot very well in the first half. While the Devils were 8-of-15 for 53 percent shooting, the Ponies were only 3-of-19 for 15 percent from the field. And while the Ponies outrebounded the Devils by pulling in 12 boards, the Ponies also hurt themselves with 10 first half turnovers. “That (turnovers) was a little tentativeness on our part.” Kraske said. "It was kind of upsetting because we are more attacking than that and we turned it over unnecessarily.” When the third quarter got underway, it looked like it was going to be another tough outing for the Ponies. Selvig tacked on a couple more blocks, and the Devils' defense was holding strong. But after about three minutes ticked off the clock, HHS began to turn things around. They were trailing by nine when Hayley Donovan and Hedges combined for a 7-0 run to bring the Devils lead down to 24-22. “Their (Glendive) defense is really good. Their slides are unbelievable and they are long and lanky. I was pleased to see how our kids kept their composure. We needed to remember that we are here to play and to attack. We need to keep our foot on the gas when it’s necessary. I thought our kids did a good job, they just played how we played.” After bringing the deficit down to two points, Blessum hit her first field goal of the game. With less than two minutes still left to play in the third quarter, she drained a three to give her Ponies their first lead, going up 25-24. And after Hedges added two more points, HHS took a 27-24 lead into the final frame. At that point, the Ponies really began to control the tempo of the game. They were holding strong on defense, and showing very good patience on the offensive side of the ball. They were running time off the clock while maintaining their lead and also hitting clutch free throws. “It’s huge when our kids step to the line and knock down those free throws.” Kraske said. It’s impressive.” And In the first five minutes of the fourth quarter the Ponies went 6-of-6 from the line, and stretched their lead to 37-31. And on the night the Ponies were 15-of-19 from the line. In the last three minutes the Devils started to chip away at the Pony lead. Hannah McPherson and Selvig both made their presence felt, hitting big shots to bring the score to 38-37 with :30 left on the clock. The Ponies missed three out of their final four free-throw attempts, and Selvig had a chance to tie the game, but missed her a late attempt. But after one last defensive stand by the Ponies, Cali Freier recorded her only defensive rebound of the night, bringing in the Devils' Blaire Minle’s miss to end the game and give the Ponies a dramatic come-from-behind, upset win over the top-ranked Devils. HHS (15-6) has been the most successful this year when they get good even production by their offense. And tonight, that’s exactly what they got. Blessum and Hedges led the Ponies with nine points each, while Karly Evans and Donovan chipped in with seven each. Ruff, Darrah and Freier all did their part as well, adding two points a piece against the Devils. “That was the difference in the game.” Kraske said. “It was a total team effort on our part. It was every kid. That’s how we play. I don’t care if it's two points or four points, they are big baskets. In a game against a team as good as Glendive we need two points from (Madison) Ruff to win. I can’t say enough about our kids and how well they played today.” Next in line for the Ponies are the tough Hamilton Broncs. They are the No. 2 seed out of the Southwest, and they too got an upset win on Thursday in a victory over the Columbia Falls Wildcats, 51-48 in overtime. In other first round action Thursday, Anaconda beat Bigfork 74-45 and Miles City took care of Belgrade 60-39. The Copperheads and Cowgirls will meet in tonight's late semifinal and the winner will face the winner of the Havre/ Hamilton matchup. The Ponies and Broncs tip off tonight at 6:30 p.m in Butte in the Class A semifinals and the game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM AM. “I feel real good about what we can do.” Kraske said. “We are a real solid defensive team and we are pretty salty offensively. We are getting ourselves ready to play Hamilton, and to play our best.. And we are going to live with the results of playing our best."