From the beginning of the season until now, the Havre High boys basketball team has steadily improved. Now, riding the wave of a four-game win streak, the Blue Ponies are looking to enter the Central A tournament playing their best basketball yet.
Today through Saturday the Ponies will take part in the Central A divisional tournament in Belgrade.
HHS enters the tournament with a 6-4 conference record and the No. 2 seed. The Butte Central Maroons are No. 1 with a 7-3 record, while the Browning Indians are No. 3 with a 5-5 record, the Lewistown Golden Eagles are No. 4 with a 5-5 record, the Belgrade Panthers are No. 5 with a 4-6 record and the Livingston Rangers are No. 6 with a 3-7 record.
Today Lewistown and Belgrade will face off in game one, and Browning and Livingston will face off in game two. On Friday night, the Ponies will await the winner of the Browning/Livingston game and Butte Central will await the winner of the Lewistown/Belgrade game.
And while the Ponies are excited to enter as the second-place seed and to have a first-round bye, they know the tournament is going to be extremely tough this season.
“This year I would say there aren’t any clear favorites in the Central A,” Havre High head coach Andy Smith said. “I think having the bye is even more critical this year because the whole field is evenly matched. It is just wide open, every team has a shot to win this year, it’s that close.”
In recent years there has been a dominating force that has been a heavy favorite. But this year it’s not that way. The Eagles sit smack dab in the middle of the conference and have recorded a win over every team in the Central A this season. The same can be said for the Ponies, as they too have gotten a win over every conference opponent during the regular season. Every team in the Central A brings something to the table that makes them tough.
The Maroons are deep and experienced squad packed with talent. Led by Jonathan Richards, Aschan Richards and Andy Ritter, the Maroons will be a force as the No. 1 seed. The Maroons also have a solid defense allowing the fewest points to opposing teams this season with 772. And Browning causes havoc for teams with their high tempo style that can run circles around the opposing defense. The Indians get out and run and love to score in transition. The Eagles have also proven to be dangerous just by the fact that they have earned a win over every team this season. Led by Travis Gilskey and Bo Descheemaeker, the Eagles can’t be overlooked. The Panthers will also be tough, as they live and die by their three-point shooting. Belgrade has put over 400 treys this season and average 30 percent from behind the arc. If they are hot, teams are in trouble if they cant get out and get a hand up.
Lastly, the Rangers may have just three conference wins on the season, but they too can shock a team if overlooked. They have four kids averaging just under 10 points per game and have the third highest scoring offense with 983 total points. If their defense can make some key stops this weekend, they too can be a true contender. That’s what makes the Ponies' preparation so though, as they await the winner of the Livingston vs. Browning game. Both teams will be a tough matchup, and there is no way the Ponies can truly speculate who they think will come out victorious.
“We have been watching game film on both teams,” Smith said. “We don’t know who will win and we are just going to practice how we have been. We will incorporate drills to prepare for both teams, but we just have to continue to get better at what we are doing. We know it will be nothing less than a hard fought game. All I can say for sure is that having a bye eliminated one hard step. Does it make it any easier, no not really because we still have to beat a good team, whoever we play on Friday night, it’s going to be a tough, tough game for us.”
Offensively, the Ponies have played well this season. They are led by Anfernee Standing Rock with an 18 points per game average and Logan Connor, who averages almost 17. Drew Kafka and Brandon Smith also combine for just under 10 per game. Both Standing Rock and Connor are threats with dribble penetration, and Kafka poses as an inside threat. Connor also gives the Ponies an outside threat, as he has gone 53-of-143 3-pointers this season for 37 percent. Ryan Brandt also gives the Ponies a spark off the bench as does Kade Barsotti.
Defensively, the Ponies have also done very well this season, as that has been the anchor of their success. Ryan Myers leads the defense with his almost endless supply of energy and quick feet. He leads the team with 31 steals this season, and has taken on the task of defending the oppositions No. 1 offensive threat in almost every game this season. Corderro Strickland also steps up big for the Ponies, especially defensively as he comes off the bench and takes on guards as well as post players.
It is going to be an interesting tournament with how evenly matched the field is, but the Ponies have put themselves in a god position to be successful. And if the Ponies just keep playing the way they have been, a top 2 finish won’t be out of the question.
“I am excited about going into the tournament,” Smith said. “Because the kids have been playing better and we really feel they are where they need to be. We just need to go in there and execute and do what we are supposed to do. Our kids are fully capable.”
The Ponies will open their tournament play with a first round bye, and will await the winner of the Browning/Livingston matchup for a semifinal game at 7 p.m. on Friday night. The Central A runs through Saturday night with the boys championship game scheduled for 8 p.m.
The top two teams from the Central A move on to the Class A state tournament March 10-12 in Bozeman.