By Tiffany L. Rehbein
Tough defensive pressure and a penetration offense helped the Havre Blue Ponies girls basketball team improve to a 3-1 record with two non-conference wins over the weekend.
In the Friday home opener against the District 1B Fort Benton Longhorns, the Blue Ponies expanded a 35-19 halftime lead into a game-winning 58-45 win.
I think that we came out and played very well in the first half, head coach Dennis Murphy said.
Havre led at the end of one quarter, 18-10, behind even scoring from junior Nikki Baltrusch who netted five points, sophomore Amy Ranes who had four points and senior Tiffany Shrauger who chipped in six points, including one three-pointer, in the quarter.
Shrauger had a game-high 17 points and two threes in the win.
In the second quarter, Havre outscored the Longhorns 17-9 with tough defensive full-court pressure and a driving offense.
The Blue Ponies ripped down six offensive rebounds in the quarter, led by senior Erin Patera and sophomore Jayla McPherson.
Patera, the only returning starter from last years squad, sat most of the game in foul trouble allowing sophomore Samatha Velk to step off the bench for the Ponies.
However, Fort Benton remained in contention for the win as they narrowed the Blue Pony lead to eight points at one point in the third quarter. Junior Alyssa Matter sparked the Ponies with the first Havre score at 4:07 remaining in the quarter.
The girls were a little fatigued, Murphy said. They were a little bit tired.
Hands-on defensive pressure, man-to-man coverage and two starters on the bench with three fouls, Patera and sophomore Jeri Matter, all loaned to the Blue Pony fatigue.
We had to play others more minutes than they were used to playing, Murphy said.
Offensively, penetration by Baltrush, Alyssa Matter and Shrauger was difficult to defend. Baltrusch and Matter each tallied nine points in the win.
We need to create things for players to get open shots, Murphy said.
On the defensive end, Ranes pulled down seven boards and Jeri Matter collected four.
Amy Ranes did a great job on the boards for us, Murphy said. Our three sophomores (Ranes, Jeri Matter and McPherson) came in and really picked up.
Saturday at Glasgow, the Blue Ponies won a nailbiter, downing the District 2B Scotties 49-45 in overtime.
Again, Murphy said, I thought we came out and played extremely well in the first half. We eliminated many, many scoring opportunities for them.
The Ponies held Glasgow to 13 first-half points.
However, the Scotties opened the second half by pouring in 10 unanswered points.
We were back on our heels and they just kept closing the gap on us, Murphy said. The fourth quarter comes along, and they did a great job putting it into overtime.
The Blue Ponies were outscored 16-8 in the fourth quarter.
Havre, who hit 13-of-23 freethrows, nailed some crucial shots from the charity stripe in the overtime to seal the victory.
We were definitely out of gas against Glasgow, Murphy said. We had a tough game the night before in our first home game, plus a 170-mile bus trip. We were a step slow in the second half.
Even scoring kept the Ponies moving offensively. Baltrusch and Shrauger netted 11 points each and Patera chipped in 10 in the victory.
Point guard Baltrusch, who sparked the Ponies in the first quarter with two 3-pointers, had eight assists.
Were going to be pretty difficult to play against with five-to-six people scoring, Murphy said.
Alyssa Matter worked the boards, ripping down seven, while cousin Jeri Matter tallied six in the contest.
In the tough, Blue Pony pressure defense, Patera snatched five steals.
We really came together in the end, hung in there and got her done, Murphy said. Our kids just responded really well in overtime and that really pleased me.
The Ponies face Central A rival Fergus County Thursday and non-conference AA Great Falls High Saturday. Both contests are in Havre with tip-off slated for 7:30 p.m.