By Kim Staudinger
The Chinook Sugarbeeters and Havre Blue Ponies both have tough upcoming weekends, starting with games against each other Thursday in Chinook.
After a week off for the Ponies due to teacher's conventions, Havre will have a key three-game weekend, facing Browning on the road Friday and Malta at home Saturday after traveling to Chinook Thursday. Chinook also plays at home on Friday against Glasgow.
Havre took advantage of an early 14-point first quarter lead, leading to a 63-42 win over Chinook in the first matchup of the season for the two teams. But Havre coach Dennis Murphy knows a start like that one will be nearly impossible to repeat.
"It will be difficult for us to duplicate the type of success we had against them the first time around," he said. "It will be a dogfight down there. Keller's got them playing well at the right time of the season."
Both teams have been playing extremely well of late, making the both coaches realize the importance of the game.
Havre played two very close games on the road against Lewistown and Great Falls High two weekends ago, giving the Ponies some extra confidence. While Chinook, who did not have last weekend off, defeated Malta on Oct. 12 and nearly upset Class B's top-ranked team, Wolf Point, also boosting the team's confidence.
"We've been playing fairly decent here lately," Beeter coach Bill Keller said. "Things are starting to come together for us. We have two great defensive teams going at it, so it should be a very well played game."
Keller said one of the keys to this game is patience. Havre's size worries Chinook, but Keller said if his team takes good shots, they should be OK.
"We need to be more patient in our offense," he said. "We just gave up too many offensive boards (in the first game). The size is definitely to their advantage, but we hope to limit them to one shot in each series. Every time a shot goes up, we need to be conscious and aware of where every player is and aggressively go after the ball."
Despite both teams playing well, Murphy said he hopes the week of rest works to his team's advantage this late in the season. He said his team has had a good week of practice and that they look good and refreshed.
Keller simply hopes his team continues to play tough like they have been, but also needs some kids to have big games in order to beat the Ponies.
"We have had a number of kids really step it up for us of late," he said. "We will need all our kids to step it up. We need one or two kids off the bench to score for us."
Keller also mentioned that Kelly Acra will need to have a big rebounding game and that Kelsie Whitney will need to have a good shooting game. Along with Acra and Whitney, Keller commented on three players who have been playing well, that need to continue that for this weekend.
"Jen Baird is starting to be aggressive and playing well defensively," he said. "And, Whitney Lybeck and Brittany Buhmann have been doing really well off the bench for us."
After facing Havre on Thursday, the Sugarbeeters host Glasgow on Friday. Chinook was down by three points with 4.5 seconds remaining in the game, but Baird made two free throws after the clock expired to clinch the one-point victory.
Keller said Glasgow is a lot like Havre, also having players with great size, which the Beeters need to be prepared for.
"Glasgow plays very, very physical," he said. "We need to get out and pressure them and force other kids to handle the ball to force some turnovers."
Another element Chinook must be prepared for against Chinook is the constantly changing defensive plans by the Scotties.
"They try and throw a lot of looks defensively," Keller said. "We need to read that and be patient in order for us to get good shots."
Havre's big weekend also continues on Friday, traveling to Browning to face the Lady Indians. Havre edged Browning 58-53 in the team's first meeting of the year.
Browning is one of the few teams that can challenge Havre's size, which may cause problems for the Ponies.
"They are so talented physically," Murphy said. "They look a lot like a college team with their size. It's hard to prepare for that type of size."
The Ponies also face a tough task playing Browning on the road, as it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase home-court advantage.
"The environment is incredible," Murphy said. "The place should be full. It will probably be the biggest crowd we play in front of the whole year."
As if the size and home-court advantage won't give the Ponies enough problems, Murphy said the full-court pressure could also raise havoc for Havre.
"Coach Croff believes he can press us the whole game," Murphy said. "I believe he will do that, too."
The week-long rest will come in to play Saturday for the Ponies as they wrap up their three-game weekend at home against Malta.
Havre easily defeated Malta in the first matchup of the season, but Murphy said his team cannot hope for the same type of game the second time around.
"We can't count on Malta going 1-for-26 again," he said referring to the shooting struggles the M-Ettes had. "It was a very sluggish game the first time. Both teams didn't play very well."
Murphy said a key component to the game Saturday against Malta will be controlling two players in Kylee Starr and Jolene Fuzesy. Also a key factor for the Ponies will be playing their third game in three days.
"It will be a nice challenge for us being our third of three games," Murphy said. "It will be a true test of stamina and our mental approach to these games."