By Kim Staudinger
Despite being down by 11 points early in the game, the Fergus County High School Golden Eagles of Lewistown came back with a strong second half to defeat Havre 59-54 Friday night in Havre.
Lewistown used a key third quarter backed by six points from junior forward Evan Sweeney and five from senior guard Tye Phillips to gain momentum heading into the final eight minutes of play. The Eagles scored 18 points in the quarter and held Havre to only seven.
The Eagles scored the first three baskets in the third to take their first lead of the game at 32-31 with 5:44 remaining in the quarter. The lead continued to flip-flop, with seven lead changes in the last 14 minutes of play. The five-point lead at the end of the third quarter by Lewistown was the largest lead of the half by either team until the final buzzer sounded.
Senior guard Kyle Sheppard got the Ponies off to a quick start only nine seconds into the fourth quarter, stealing the ball and driving it all the way home for an easy lay-up. Junior Ryan Lusin followed 30 seconds later, making one of two free throws after being fouled on a putback, cutting the Eagles' lead to 43-41.
Bryan Horacek gave the Eagles a four-point lead nearly one minute later with an open lay-up off a Havre turnover.
But the Ponies weren't about to give up. Lusin, who was dominating underneath for the Ponies and finished with a game high 21 points, answered with a basket and a free throw to pull Havre to within one.
"We thought Ryan could score off them inside," Havre head coach Mark West said. "He was part of our offensive plan to go inside. We didn't think they could defend us there. Every game, Ryan gets better and better for us."
Mike Frey gave the Ponies the lead once again with an easy lay-up off of a steal by Kevin Harada. The duo of Frey and Lusin struck again seconds later and after the Lusin-made basket and an Eagle turnover, Havre led by three and Lewistown took a timeout.
Both teams exchanged baskets back and forth until the 3:37 mark when Sweeney drained two consecutive baskets for Lewistown, allowing the Eagles to retake the lead. Junior Chris Otto scored the Eagles' third straight basket at the 1:25 mark, giving his team a 55-52 lead and forcing the Ponies to take a timeout.
The Ponies never recovered from the deficit, missing two key free throws in the last minute of play, while the Eagles made another open basket and two free throws to seal the win.
The game started with a promising note for the Ponies. Six players scored in the first quarter, giving them a 20-9 lead after eight minutes of play. The Ponies outscored the Eagles 11-0 in the last three minutes and 35 seconds of play in the first quarter.
But the Eagles bounced back and went on an 11-0 run of their own, cutting the Havre lead to 20-17. The Ponies scored 11 points to eight for Lewistown to take a 31-25 lead into the half.
"It was really nice to see us play really well defensively for the most part tonight," West said. "We had a few breakdowns, but I thought we played really strong defense overall.
"It was nice to see us playing hard for four quarters. One of our goals for tonight was to start the game ahead and play well. This was the first game besides Butte Central where we played well against a nice team in a tight game."
West said his team had intensity he had not seen too often before.
Havre had four turnovers in the first half, but had 11 in the second.
Harada followed Lusin's 21 points with 13 of his own for the Ponies. Taylor and Sweeney finished the game with 16 points each for Lewistown, while Horacek added 10.
Lewistown 9 16 18 16 59
Havre 20 11 7 16 54
Lewistown Derek Taylor 16, Chris Otto 2, Tye Phillips 5, Bryan Horacek 10, Evan Sweeney 16, Nate RedFern 4, Doug Longfellow 6.
Havre Danny Wirtzberger 2, Kyle Sheppard 2, Mike Frey 6, Cory Brothers 4, Doug Ireland 6, Kevin Harada 13, Ryan Lusin 21.