By Kim Staudinger
GREAT FALLS After suffering an embarrassing 36-point loss to the Great Falls High Bison Sept. 15, the Havre Blue Ponies traveled to Great Falls, looking for revenge.
While the Bison Fieldhouse is usually a very difficult court for visiting teams to play on, it appeared to cause problems for the home-team Bison, who struggled for nearly the entire game.
But, with Havre clinging to a 49-48 lead with just under 18 seconds left in the game, Great Falls showed why playing at home works to their advantage.
Nine seconds after Great Falls effortlessly rolled the ball to half court, while inbounding the ball at the baseline, senior guard Megan Schmitz burried a short jumper in the middle of the key to win the game 50-49 for the Bison Saturday night in Great Falls.
Great Falls' Rachael Wilford gave the Bison an early 2-1 lead on a short jump-shot, hitting off the glass. That lead at 7:28 in the first was the only advantage the Bison would have until junior point-guard Michela Schmitz hit a jump-shot in the middle of the key with 42 seconds remaining in the game, to give Great Falls a 48-47 lead.
The Ponies responded to Schmitz's shot as senior Jayla McPherson (game high 15 points) was left open in the key for an easy lay-in with 20 seconds left.
Seconds later Great Falls called a timeout to set up the game-winning shot for the Bison.
Havre got the ball back with just over five seconds remaining, but a hurried out-of-bounds play forced the Ponies to take a bad shot as time expired.
The Ponies led by as many as 13 late in the third quarter as Julie Wagner grabbed a steal, followed by draining a three-point shot, but the Ponies were outscored 20-6 in the final nine minutes for the loss.
Meghan Schwantes hit her fourth three-point shot of the game seconds later, followed by a made basket and a free throw by Liz Marsik, starting the Bison run to end the third quarter.
"We had them on the ropes," head coach Dennis Murphy said, referring to the late lead by the Ponies.
Even with the heart-breaking loss, the Ponies have to be happy with their overall play, holding guards Michela and Megan Schmitz to a combined 14 points under their season average. Neither Megan, nor Michela scored in the first and third quarters of the game.
"We made a commitment before the game to keep the Schmitz girls under control," Murphy said. "We wanted to have defenses already waiting for them when they caught the ball."
Jeri Matter dominated the Pony offense in the first quarter, scoring 10 of Havre's 18 points, creating a five-point lead going into the second quarter. Matter finished with 12 points on the game.
"When you take a look at the whole game, they did a great job," Murphy said. "We built a good lead because we took shots we were capable of making. We did the things we needed to do to get ahead like getting back on defense and setting good screens."
The Ponies increased their lead to six at the half and seven after the third quarter, only to get outscored 14-6 in the final quarter of play.
McPherson led all scorers with 15 points, followed by Wagner's 13 and Matter's 12.
Schwantes led the Bison with 13 points.
Havre Julie Wagner 13, Katie Malsam 3, Carrie Flatau 1, Alysia Kato 2, Jeri Matter 12, Amy Ranes 3, Jayla McPherson 15.
Great Falls Rachael Wilford 8, Michela Schmitz 7, Megan Schmitz 7, Liz Marsik 3, Ashley Thatcher 5, Meghan Schwantes 13, Heather Vance 4, Katherine Sunwall 3.