By Tiffany L. Rehbein
The top-ranked Havre Blue Ponies wanted to stomp the eighth-seeded Anaconda Copperheads. Instead, they just pawed them to death.
In the opening round of the Central A divisional tournament held at the Fergus County Fieldhouse in Lewistown, the Blue Ponies downed the Copperheads 33-29 to advance to the semifinals Friday.
Junior Alyssa Matter had a game-high 13 points in the victory, scoring five of the Blue Ponies eight first-quarter points.
The Pony's started without junior point guard Nikki Baltrusch, who was in a car accident Wednesday night, and Matter filled the point position.
"We didn't have an opportunity to have Nikki tonight," head coach Dennis Murphy said. "When you lose the person who's been running your team for 18 games, you're going to have some confusion at times." Baltrusch's start in the Friday night semifinal is questionable.
Heading into the locker room, the Ponies held an 11-point, 20-9, lead. Tiffany Shrauger, the Ponies leading scorer this season, scored her first two points of the game with just :21 remaining in the half. Shrauger finished with four points on the night, including going 2-for-4 from the free throw line.
"We played very well defensively in the first half," Murphy said. Havre held Anaconda to just nine points in the half, behind a 15 percent field goal percentage. The Blue Ponies held the Copperheads to the lowest defensive output of the season at 29 points.
In the first half, Havre committed zero turnovers and only one foul, while Anaconda, behind a young starting lineup, struggled with 12 turnovers in the half. The Copperheads committed 26 turnovers in the game, while Havre turned the ball over 11 times.
With more than two minutes off the clock in the third quarter, sophomore Jeri Matter hit a bucket to lift the Ponies to a 22-11 lead. She finished with four points on the night.
However, Anaconda battled back throughout the quarter, slowly chipping away the Havre lead. After Coach Murphy received a technical foul on the bench, Alyssa Matter hit a bucket and sophomore Amy Ranes hit her only bucket of the game to give the Ponies a 10-point lead with 2:00 remaining in the quarter.
The momentum favored Anaconda midway through the fourth quarter. But Havre, who did not hit a field goal in the quarter, went 6-for-18 from the free throw line to seal the victory.
"We wanted to get to the foul line in the fourth quarter, we just didn't convert them like we would have liked to," Murphy said.
During the past three games, the Blue Ponies have faltered offensively in the fourth quarter, scoring three, five, and six points, respectively, in the final eight minutes of play.
"We managed to hit not a single field goal," Murphy said. "So, we've kept that streak alive."
With 2:48 remaining in the game, junior Sam Velk caused a turnover that pushed things Havre's direction.
Although Anaconda tied the game 27-27 on free throws by Kelly Philip, Anaconda was forced to foul to stay in the game. Philip had a team-high 10 points in the effort.
With fouls to give before the bonus situation, Havre gave some fouls up and retired the clock en route to the victory.
Havre will face the Fergus County Golden Eagles at 8 p.m. at the Fieldhouse in semifinal action Friday. Lewistown defeated the Belgrade Panthers 72-43 in the final night game Thursday. Cassie Chapman and Jamie Slagel combined for 44 points en route to the victory.
Havre and Lewistown split during the regular season, but Lewistown has not lost a game since before meeting Havre and defeating it 49-41 on Oct. 16.
"They're on a roll right now, and we've got to find a way to stop their bread and butter," Murphy said about Chapman and Slagel.
To open the tournament, second-seeded Dillon Beavers downed the seventh-seeded Park Rangers, 56-44. They will face Browning in semifinal action, as the Indians defeated the No. 6-ranked Butte Central Maroons 56-30 to close the afternoon session.