If it truly is defense that wins championships, the Havre High girls basketball team should be in pretty good position to win the Class A title this weekend in Butte.
In first-round action at the Class A state girls tournament, the Central A champion Blue Ponies took on the Stevensville Yellowjackets. The Ponies were coming off of a divisional tournament where they dazzled fans with their potent offense, but that wasn’t the case on Thursday night at the Butte Civic Center. Instead, the Pony defense held strong to give HHS a 40-36 win after a horrific offensive start.
“Stevensville did a nice job and we didn’t play our best basketball tonight,” Havre High head coach Dustin Kraske said. “But down the stretch we were pretty good. We were having a tough time scoring. Our screening angles were screwed up and quite frankly we may have gone a little bit too fast. But down the stretch we were able to spread out a little bit and get to the basket, knock down some free throw shots and get the win.”
The Ponies scored just 15 points in the first half and held a slim 15-13 lead at the break. That looks more like a first quarter spread rather than a first half spread, as both teams struggled to jumpstart their offensive production after a first quarter that was dominated by the defense.
Alycia Sims is a 6-3 senior for the Yellowjackets who has already committed to play for the University of Montana next season. Her inside presence is a game changer against any team, and her being inside didn’t help the Ponies efforts any, as they struggled to score early, settling for too many jump shots and not getting inside. The Ponies scored just two points on one field goal in the first quarter, while the Yellowjackets didn’t do much better with just three points in the first frame. The Ponies were 1-for-10 from the field and 0-for-5 from 3-point range, but that didn’t matter as the defense stood strong. Stevensville was 1-for-6 from the field, 0-for-3 from 3-point range, but also committed six turnovers to add to its offensive woes.
In the first half, the Ponies shot 26 percent from the field, while the Yellowjackets shot 36 percent from the field.
“Part of our process was to drive at her and dish the ball to an open player,” Kraske said. “That is how Neya Bischoff got some baskets early. Why we were hesitating? Maybe it was her presence inside, but I am not quite sure. It seemed like we were just a day late on everything. When the screen was good, the pass wasn’t there, or when the pass ended up getting there, the defense was already in position. We just had to tighten up.
“We made some adjustments and tried to set a few more on ball screens for Brandy (Lambourne), Morgan (Mazurkiewicz), and Peyton (Filius) to try to allow them to create some space so that we could get to the hoop.” Kraske added. “I think that opened things up for us more than anything else.”
Havre High did start to get inside on offense, which proved to be the difference late in the game. Bischoff got things rolling in the second quarter with four points in the paint, scoring around the three-minute mark, then around the one-minute mark. The Ponies continued to go inside down the stretch, and not even the 6-3 Sims could stop them.
A lopsided third quarter gave the Ponies a lead they never gave back. Morgan Mazurkiewicz hit a 3-pointer with 5:38 to play and the Ponies found themselves leading 19-17. Bischoff followed with another field goal inside to give the Ponies a 21-17 lead, while Lacey Waid also got inside to give the Ponies the 23-17 lead at the 2:40 mark. The Ponies outscored the Yellowjackets 10-5 in the frame and led 25-18 heading into the fourth.
Stevensville outscored the Ponies 18-15 in the final eight minutes, but the Yellowjacket offense still never got into a groove, as they had to make nine free throws to stay in contention. Lambourne gave the Yellowjackets fits with her speed and penetration. She scored seven points in the frame, including six straight for the Ponies in a span of about three minutes to start the quarter.
Lambourne led the offense with 11 points, while Morgan Mazurkiewicz and Bischoff followed with eight points each. Peyton Filius added six and Tori Mazurkiewicz and Lacey Waid combined for another four.
“It was awesome getting the first win out of the way,” Lambourne said. “Now we are focused on tomorrow night’s game. We were off to a slow start tonight, but we came together as
a team and settled things down and made our shots when it mattered the most.”
But the HHS defense didn’t just show up and leave after the first half, the Pony defense was stout all night long.
The Blue Ponies showed man and zone looks, as well as ran their full court press throughout the second half. After forcing 15 turnovers in the first two frames, the Ponies forced eight more in the second half, never letting the Yellowjackets get into a groove. And while Sims led all scorers with 20 points, she had just three field goals on the night, and had to earn her points by going 14-for-17 from the free throw line. Kyla Paulsen was the only other double-digit scorer for the Yellowjackets, finishing with 11 points on just two field goals.
“Defensively, our kids did a nice job,” Kraske said. “Even when they kind of made some runs, Neya (Bischoff) and Haley Ohm did a nice job on their big girl (Sims). Our guards also really pressured their perimeter players very well and ultimately, that was the difference in the game.”
Now the Ponies must brace for a tough Laural Locomotive team tonight in the semifinals. The Locomotives defeated Frenchtown 53-42 on Thursday night, riding the hot hand of Jayde LeFevre behind the 3-point arc. The Ponies will have to rely on that great defensive pressure once again, stopping LeFevre, as well as Abbie Lohof, Leslie Gappa, and Dalayna Christenson.
“Laurel is a nice team,” Kraske said. “They are well coached and fundamentally good. We are going to have our hands full, but we got through our game where we didn’t play very well, so now it is time for our kids to play to their capabilities and do what they do best. I am totally confident our kids will do that and I am excited to see our kids play.”
The Ponies and Locomotives will tip off tonight at 8 at the Butte Civic Center. Browning plays defending state champion Billings Central in the other semifinal.
Havre 40, Stevensville 36
Havre 2 13 10 15 – 40
Stevensville 3 10 5 18 – 36
Havre – Peyton Filius 6, Brandy Lambourne 11, Morgan Mazurkiewicz 8, Tori Mazurkiewicz 2, Lacey Waid 2, Neya Bischoff 8.
Stevensville – Kyla Paulsen 13, Kayla Peterson 3, Alycia Sims 20, Carly Sebastian 0, Bailey Vercruyssem 0, Carly Vercruyssem 0.
Class A State
Billings Central 61, Columbia Falls 49, first round
Browning 57, Butte Central 41, first round
Laurel 53, Frenchtown 42, first round
Havre 40, Stevensville 36, first round
12:30 p.m. -- Columbia Falls vs. Butte Central, loser-out
2 p.m. -- Frenchtown vs. Stevensville, loser-out
6:30 p.m. -- Billings Central vs. Browning, semifinal
8 p.m. -- Laurel vs. Havre, semifinal
Follow the Blue Pony girls all weekend with the Havre Daily News