GREAT FALLS — Ask any coach, and they will say that it is the adversity that makes a team stronger, not the easy wins. And if that is as true as coaches and players believe, the Havre High girls basketball team did a lot of growing up in the four quarters of the Central A divisional championship.
The Havre High girls were the regular season champions, and can now add divisional champs to that list of 2012 accomplishments.
“We grew up today,” Head coach Dustin Kraske said. “Our kids did a great job executing down the stretch. Belgrade is a nice team, they get up, they make you work for everything, they are physical with you, and our kids handled that. I was proud of that, and to get to the foul line and go through your routine nice and easy and follow through, it was great.”
And that was the story behind this big-time win by the Blue Ponies, composure and free throws. Both teams had a tough time getting their offense going by way of field goals. The Ponies did grab 11 first quarter points with no foul shots in the first quarter, but as the game went on and the game got tighter, so did the importance of free points when you earned them. The Ponies’ lead was 11-10 after the first and HHS trailed 21-20 at the break.
But as the second half continued, the Ponies put the game away with tough defense and from the charity stripe. They outscored the Panthers 30-19 in the last 16 minutes, making just one field goal in the final two quarters. Sammy Evans scored a bucked at the five minute mark in the second quarter.
And the 50-40 win isn’t too bad on the surface, but without foul shots, there was relatively no scoring. In the contest there was a combined 50 fouls. The Panthers converted 15-of-28 attempts, but the Ponies really bade Belgrade pay, converting 29 of their 39 attempts from the charity stripe. Fouls changed the entire tempo and style of the game, slowing it down and making the Ponies really fight for their points. In the fourth quarter HHS didn’t convert one field goal, but did earn 19 points by knocking down 19 of their 24 free throw attempts.
“I don’t know why for sure,” Kraske said. “We fouled too much and maybe they had to foul to catch up I guess. But we had sophomores going to the line, juniors going to the line and seniors going to line, I was proud of our kids.
“We all had to step up and really mature at the end and make our free throws,” HHS senior Jaclyn Evans added. “We are the worst free throw shooting team in our league, but we really had to step it up if we wanted to win. I think it was our maturity, yes we are young, but people don’t realize how mature we actually are. We are also close, and I think that made our team stay strong in the end.”
It was the Belgrade defense that put a damper on the Ponies’ offense to begin with, but the Ponies took care of business with key foul shots. But on the flip side, the Ponies’ defense also made it very tough for the Panthers to get rolling as well.
The Panthers have a lot of top-notch talent, but HHS made sure nobody truly hurt them with big time shots. Sammy Evans and Lacey Waid did a nice job defending Dylan Fowler and held her to just six points. And Peyton FIlius was on Justine Taylor for the nearly the entire game and held her to just 10 points.
“Defense was huge,” Havre’s Brandy Lambourne said “We just needed to make sure we helped on their big girls down low and talk, that was the main thing.
“We played team defense,” Kraske added. “We bought into it, and we rebounded. We are trying to preach more five on five defense, and I think that had a lot to do with the scoring. Our kids did a nice job and I am proud of them.”
Filius led the Ponies with 13 points, while Sammy Evans kicked in 10 and Jaclyn Evans kicked in eight. Lambourne also finished with six, coming from two triples, while Neya Bischoff added five. Morgan Mazurkiewicz and Chanal Standing Rock also scored four each, as the Ponies surprisingly had a balanced offense with all the fouls.
The Ponies reached the title game with relative ease, cruising past Lewistown 50-37 in Friday night’s semifinal. Havre set the tone with its defense early on, holding the Eagles to just four first-quarter points while Lambourne opened the contest with a three.
Lambourne hit a another triple in the second quarter, but the Eagles managed to fight back and trail just 19-13 at halftime.
It didn’t take long for Havre to put Lewistown away however. Lambourne hit two more big shots in the third quarter, including following a Filius three with one of her own. That put Havre ahead 29-16 and the lead would grow to as many as 17 points before the start of the fourth stanza.
“I thought the girls came out and really executed the game plan,” Kraske said. “They were just really sharp. Each player defended very well, we didn’t rush things on offense, we moved the ball well and were balanced. I just thought we executed very well and I was proud of that.”
Filius scored 17 and Lambourne added 16 points in Havre’s third win over the rival Eagles this season.
And now it’s off to the state tournament. HHS will have a week to get ready before the Ponies head to the Butte Civic Center for the 2012 Class A state tourney March 8-10. The Ponies will play a tough Billings Central team in the opening round on March 8.
Havre 50, Belgrade 40 (1st)
Belgrade 10 11 6 13 — 40
Havre 11 9 11 19 — 50
Belgrade — Annie Prickett 9, Justine Taylor 10, Morgan Wandler 4, Leighton Hirsch 9, Dylan Fowler 6, Taylor Woolman 2. Totals: 12 15-28.
Havre — Brandy Lambourne 6, Jaclyn Evans 8, Morgan Mazurkiewicz 4, Sammy Evans 10, Peyton Filius 13, Chanal Standing Rock 4, Neya Bischoff 5. Totals: 9 29-37.
Total fouls: Belgrade 27, Havre 23. Fouled out: Taylor , Hirsch 5, Fowler, Lambourne, S. Evans. Technical fouls: None. Three point goals: Taylor 1, Lambourne 2, Mazurkiewicz
Note: Sports Editor George Ferguson contributed to this story.