By Kim Staudinger
Making free throws is important to any game, but making free throws down the stretch is even more important.
The Havre Blue Ponies made 8-of-11 (72.7 percent) free throws in the fourth quarter to escape with a 52-45 victory over the CMR Rustlers Friday night at the Blue Pony Corral.
Julie Wagner, one of seven seniors playing in their last game at home, made 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute and 34 seconds of the game to seal Havre's victory. Wagner also led the team in scoring with 13 points.
"Julie made some free throws down the stretch that took some pressure off of us," Havre coach Dennis Murphy said.
Along with great shooting from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, the Ponies also shot very well from the field, shooting 49 percent.
"We also shot about 50 percent from the field," Murphy said. "And for us, that's really good."
The Ponies needed the hot shooting to fend off a 21-point fourth quarter attack by the Rustlers. Freshman Sarah Stubbs scored 10 points in the final eight minutes, including two three-point shots.
Stubbs' first three-pointer started an eight-point run by CMR, which cut Havre's 13-point lead to five. Senior Jayla McPherson ended the run with a short jump shot, but Stubbs came back with a quick steal for an easy lay-up to keep the Rustlers close.
Stubbs followed with another lay-up nearly one minute later, cutting the Ponies' lead to three. Stubbs would hit her second three-point shot with 1:14 remaining in the game.
"We played really well, executed real well and didn't make many mistakes," Murphy said. "The biggest reason they came back on us is we were a little tired. It was nice to have a 12-point lead. It made it a lot easier to make adjustments with that type of lead."
Stubbs, who scored all of her 13 points in the second half, hit the first of her three three-point shots in the third quarter. Sophomore Erin Goodman hit a jump shot with just over four minutes to go in the third. CMR would not score again in the quarter, allowing Havre to increase it's lead to 14 going into the final eight minutes of play.
McPherson and senior Jeri Matter each had four points in the third, followed by classmate Amy Ranes with three. Matter ended the game with 12 points and four rebounds and Ranes with five points and 10 rebounds. McPherson finished with eight points and five rebounds.
"Jayla's so solid," Murphy said, mentioning McPherson moved to the number one spot for shooting percentage in the conference. "She ends up with eight points and five rebounds which is definitely below her average for the season. She had a couple of blocked shots, and overall had a pretty good game. By far she's the most consistent player on our team. She's had that kind of consistency all year."
After a back-and-forth first quarter, the Ponies were able to score five unanswered points to take an 11-7 lead. Carrie Flatau started the run, making a short jump shot, followed by one of two free throws seconds later and finally a turnaround jump shot with 27 seconds remaining, capping the Havre run. Flatau finished with nine points on the game.
"Flatau had a really good game for us," Murphy said. "She was great offensively. She got the ball and took it right to the hole. That's what we had been hoping she would do all year."
The Ponies had a balanced scoring attack in the second quarter, led by three points each from Wagner, Matter and Katie Malsam to increase the Pony lead to seven at the half. Havre doubled that lead after the third quarter en route to the victory that ended Havre's regular season with an 11-7 record.
Havre takes to the road for the divisional tournament in Livingston this weekend. Havre's first-round game is Thursday night at 8 against the home-team, the Park County Rangers. A full divisional preview will appear in Wednesday's paper.
CMR Kate Ask 6, Rachael Turner 3, Sarah Stubbs 13, Shelbi Danelson 5, Emily Loehr 5, Erin Goodman 13.
Havre Julie Wagner 13, Katie Malsam 3, Carrie Flatau 9, Alysia Kato 2, Jeri Matter 12, Amy Ranes 5, Jayla McPherson 8.