The regular season is winding down for both the Havre High boys and girls basketball teams. And both Blue Pony squads would love nothing more than to enter the post season with one last win under their belts.
Tonight in Browning the Central A Pony girls will compete against the Indians in conference play. Saturday night, the Havre High boys visit Browning.
The Butte Central A Maroons have already locked up the No. 1 spot for the boys, but the Ponies can still improve or drop in the rankings depending on how Saturday's action unfolds.
With the Ponies, Indians and Lewistown Golden Eagles all sitting at 5-4 in the conference heading into the final regular season weekend, HHS could wind up in a few different spots come tournament time.
“This is the biggest regular season game of the year,” Havre High boys head coach Andy Smith said. “We have talked to the kids all week and this is an extension of the (divisional) tournament. If we are able to beat Browning would be able to have a chance to move up. It’s huge because we could earn a bye into the semifinals at the tournament, but if we don’t win it looks like we will have a pretty good chance of facing Belgrade to open the tournament. It just means a tougher road if we don’t get this win.”
But the matchup between the Ponies and Indians won’t be an easy one.
The Indians are a very tough squad. They push teams to play outside of their comfort zone and live and die by transition buckets. Browning loves to get out and run with the ball as well as press team full court on defense. The Ponies are going to have slow the tempo down and more importantly, take care of the ball.
“We have to slow it down and take care of the ball,” Smith said. “We can’t get caught in their kind of game, we just don’t play at that speed like they do.”
Offensively, the Ponies will have to get another good outing from the always reliable Anfernee Standing Rock and Logan Connor. They have led the offense all season long and enter the game with a combined 33 points per game. Drew Kafka should also get involved early down low which will make the Ponies multi dimensional as well as open things up for the outside shooters.
Defense will be key for the Ponies as well. Ryan Myers has been the poster child for the Pony defense this season with his quick feet and high energy. He has taken a teams leading scorer and limited him to single digit scoring multiple times this season. But it will take a solid effort by every HHS defender who takes the floor.
“We just need to keep playing like we have on the defensive end,” Smith said. “That’s why we have been winning games. Ryan (Myers) has done a nice job, but it is also a team effort. It’s just a solid man-to-man defense where everybody has to do their job and everybody has to have each others back.”
The first time around the Ponies were defeated 70-48 in Havre. The Indians got off to a quick start, leading 23-12 after the first quarter and never let up. The Indians also got a boost from knocking down seven three-pointers in the contest.
HHS will look to put a lid on the Indians in hopes of a better seed. And coach Smith can’t stress that enough.
“This game has a major impact on our tournament,” Smith said. “And obviously it’s all about getting the best seed possible and giving your team the best chance to moving on. And it’s even more critical this year because the teams are so even, anywhere from first place to sixth place can beat any other team.”
The HHS girls will also try and end their season with a win tonight, as they try to capture a win over the Indians the second time around. In their first meeting this year, the Indians grabbed the narrow 46-40 win after the Ponies got off to a slow start and gave up some inopportune fouls down the stretch.
But with the regular season coming the a close and tournament time just around the corner, the Ponies are putting more emphasis on playing well rather than just winning.
“We’re looking to play well,” Havre High girls head coach Dustin Kraske said. “Win or lose it doesn’t really make a difference. We have been playing really well for the most part this last month of the season and I would like for us continue that way. I think our kids are ready to go.”
This time a slow start would probably mean another loss for the Ponies. The Browning offense is too fast and good to give major runs. HHS is going to have to come out be ready to play.
The Browning defense will be a determinate factor in how the Ponies offense comes out. They like to press the ball and show several different defensive fronts, both man-to-man and zone. The Ponies will have to take care of the ball and maintain solid offensive production.
HHS has averaged just around 40 points per game this season, and Kraske doesn’t think that will cut it this time around.
“We need to be ready for their defense and I think we will be,” Kraske said. “We need to attack the basket when they pressure us and shoot the ball when we are open. Our kids are starting to feel better about their abilities and rather than running a play, they need to play. They cant be afraid to put the ball on the floor and go strong and shoot the wide open shot. We are only scoring 40 points per game and we are going to need some points from somewhere come tournament time.”
Paighton Gilman has led the Ponies offense all season long and will need a big game on Friday. She is coming off of an ankle injury two games ago, but is good to go. Jaclyn Evans, Chris Mack and Peyton Filius will also be factors, as Gilman scoring down low will open things up for the guards.
Both Pony squads are looking to end the regular season on a win and a high note. It wont be easy against the tough Indian squads, but both Blue Pony squads have played very well the second half of the season.
The HHS girls and Indians will tip off at 7 p.m. tonight in Browning. The Pony boys play the Indians at 5 p.m. Saturday night in Browning.