By Kim Staudinger
The Havre High Blue Ponies knew coming into the tip-off tournament last weekend that it would be the start of a tough season, not because of lack of talent on the Ponies team, but because of the opponents they play.
While the talk all weekend was of Mike Chavez transferring to Browning for his senior season of basketball, the Ponies came out and wanted to show everyone that they should not be forgotten.
The Ponies faced one of the state's top teams in the Dillon Beavers late Friday night, falling just short in the final eight minutes of play 69-53.
Havre fell behind early, 8-2, but rallied back thanks to key three-pointers by Mike Frey and Cory Brothers to cut the lead to 11-10 with four minutes remaining. The Ponies would tie it at 15 with just under two minutes left, but failed to score in the next four minutes as the Beavers took a 25-15 lead.
Havre cut the lead to 32-26 at the half, but were never quite able to get any closer. Dillon once again led by 10 at the end of the third quarter and increased its lead to 69-53 by the final buzzer.
"Against Dillon I thought we did pretty well," Havre head coach Mark West said. "We made some small defensive mistakes in the middle of the third quarter and they made some three's that hurt us."
Frey led all scorers with 19 points, while Brothers added 12. Titus Pedraza also added 10 in the loss. Kevin Harada (6 points), Danny Wirtzberger (4 points) and Doug Ireland (2 points) rounded out the scoring for Havre.
Nate Decker led a balanced attack for the Beavers with 14 points. Kevin Hammond followed with 13, Matt Allen with 12 and Torrey Thomas with 11. Chris Kelly with eight points, Doug Gibbons with five, Kyle Tash with four and Thatcher Taylor with two were the only other scorers for Dillon.
Even with the loss, the Ponies had to be feeling good, knowing they are able to keep pace with a team as strong as Dillon. That good feeling stayed with the Ponies as they pulled out a close win over Butte Central on Saturday 61-56.
Titus Pedraza started off on fire for the Ponies, scoring the first five points of the game and Brothers drained a three-pointer from the top of the key with just over two minutes of play elapsed to give Havre an 8-0 lead.
"I am really proud of the kids the way they started the game," West said. "They came out and executed exactly the way we wanted to."
Butte Central would rally back and cut the lead to four after the first quarter and just one at 32-31 at the half. Matt Brophy (15 points) and Craig Tippett (25 points) stole the show for the Maroons, scoring 16 of the 18 second-quarter points.
The deadly duo combined once again for 12 of the 16 third-quarter points for the Maroons, giving them the slim 47-46 advantage at the end of the third quarter.
Kevin Harada got the fourth quarter off to a good start for the Ponies, rebounding a missed three-point shot by Wirtzberger to give Havre the lead. Butte battled back and led by two with 2:41 remaining as Josh Pantoja (six points) drilled a three-pointer from the right side.
But Brothers was there with the answer as he hit a three-pointer of his own seconds later to give Havre the lead for good. Brothers and Wirtzberger combined for three free throws in the last minute of play to increase Havre's lead to 61-56.
"We got what we wanted," West said, referring to Havre getting a split on the weekend. "The way we won was so good. The kids didn't panic. Cory hits a big three and Mike takes a huge charge. It was a nice way to come out at the end and win."
Brothers finished with 20 points on the game, Pedraza with 13, Wirtzberger and Ireland with eight each, Frey with seven, Harada four and Ryan Lusin with one.