By Kim Staudinger
Looking back at the Central A Divisional Boys Basketball Tournament, the Havre Blue Ponies' minds were filled with what ifs.
What if Havre had won its first-round game Thursday against Belgrade?
What if the Ponies could have faced Dillon in the semifinal round?
What if they had been playing in the championship game Saturday night instead of having to battle back through the losers' bracket?
"I wish we would have beat Belgrade," senior Mike Frey said. "If we had beat them, we would have played in the championship."
But you can't change the past.
After a disappointing 68-61 loss in overtime to Belgrade in the opening round Thursday, the Ponies faced Anaconda in loser-out action Friday afternoon at the CMR Fieldhouse.
Anaconda had a one-point lead, 16-15, after the first quarter and struggled for the remainder of the game. The Copperheads scored just 16 points in the following two quarters combined as Havre rolled to a 68-50 win.
Junior forward Ryan Lusin led the Havre scoring with 12 points. Junior guard Steve Heberly followed with 10.
The never-say-die attitude stayed with the Ponies into the Saturday morning game as they faced a very tired Butte Central team.
Butte Central came off a heart-wrenching 82-73 loss to Browning Friday night, a game in which senior Craig Tippett scored 34 points. Havre knew one of the keys going into the Butte Central game would be to shut down Tippett.
They did just that as Tippett scored only 12 points in the contest.
"Kevin (Harada) did a really nice job against Tippett," Havre head coach Mark West said. "Kevin just played real well defensively. He's so strong.
"I just felt we did a really nice job on (Tippett) and (Matt) Brophy. Even them being tired, I felt we played really well."
West gave kudos to Frey, who, he said, "came in and lit it up," and junior forward Tyler Vincent, who "had a great tournament. It was really nice to see that. He just kind of sparked us."
With the 60-44 win, the Ponies stayed alive.
But they drew a tough challenge, facing a Lewistown team that had beaten Havre in two previous contests in the regular season. Lewistown was hoping to do the same thing it had done last season knock the Ponies out of the divisional tournament.
A strong second half by the Eagles, in which they outscored Havre by 10 points, gave Lewistown its sixth straight win over Havre.
While senior Doug Ireland said it didn't really matter to him if Havre played Lewistown or Dillon, teammates Frey and Kyle Sheppard had a stronger opinion.
"I wanted to play Lewistown and beat them," Frey said.
"I think we all wanted to play them," Sheppard said. "They just have our number."
The Ponies struggled in the first quarter against the Golden Eagles, scoring just two points in the first six minutes of play. But a three-point basket by senior Titus Pedraza, a free throw by Frey, and a putback by Vincent cut the Eagles' lead to 16-8. Havre bounced back in the second quarter with even team scoring to take a two-point lead into the half.
"In the second quarter, we didn't shoot the ball very well," West said. "But we rebounded well. I thought we were real fortunate to be ahead of them."
After a huge dunk by sophomore Cory Brothers, the Ponies got a brief sense of victory.
"I thought after Cory's oop the game was ours," Frey said. "That was the coolest thing." Frey said the team waited all season for Brothers to dunk and that Coach West drew up the play at halftime.
But Havre again struggled with shooting, while Doug Longfellow was on fire for the Eagles. Longfellow hit two three-pointers in a short span, guiding a rally for Lewistown. Longfellow's second three-pointer started a 9-0 run by the Eagles, giving them a 44-39 lead with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Derek Taylor kept the hot streak going for Lewistown with two quick baskets to start the fourth quarter, giving the Eagles an eight-point lead.
The Eagles answered every basket the Ponies made in the closing quarter and also increased their lead to come away with the 71-63 win. The win also gives the Eagles the opportunity to play in the state tournament this coming weekend in Belgrade.
Havre's shooting was flat for the Lewistown game, something the players can't really explain.
"We might have been too pumped up or a little too jacked for the game," Sheppard said.
Said Coach West: "I really feel we just rushed through the game, but we were tired. We had some easy shots against Lewistown and just missed them. All of them had such a great tournament. We were just trying to make things happen, instead of letting things happen."
Still, Havre came into the Central A Divisional Tournament nearly in last place and left in fourth, something the Ponies are proud of.
"It meant quite a bit," Sheppard said. "Coming in, most people probably thought we would go two and out. We had something to prove, something to show. We definitely all played our hearts out and left everything on the court."
Said Ireland: "It was nice to show everyone that we're better than our record showed. It kind of bothered us that we came so close to state but didn't make it, but we still did really good. We're happy with how we did, but it's hard being a senior coming that close. We don't have another chance."
West had some closing sentiments for his team.
"Just for them to have the chance to go to state, I think they felt they had almost reached a goal they almost didn't think was possible. I finally feel they gained respect as a team. They were one of the best in the tournament. With a few extra bounces, they could have been there. They were persistent and determined to be a good team, and they were at the end."