By Kim Staudinger
GREAT FALLS The Havre Blue Ponies nearly knocked off the No. 2 seed at the Central A Divisional Basketball Tournament on Thursday night in a thrilling game that ended in overtime.
Despite a strong showing from the seventh-ranked Havre team, the Belgrade Panthers proved to be too much, fending off the Ponies with a 68-61 win.
The win puts Belgrade (14-5) into a semifinal game with Dillon tonight at 8:30. Havre (4-15) moves to the losers' bracket, facing Anaconda at 3 p.m.
The Ponies had their chance to win near the end of regulation play, but a well-read move on defense prevented the Havre score. With 18 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Havre had possession of the ball and used their final timeout to set up a last-second play. While the Ponies executed the play properly, Belgrade's 6-foot-5 senior standout, Ken Herbst, dashed Havre's hopes.
"We wanted to run a one-four low with Cory (Brothers), but Herbst kind of read it and stepped up in the middle and blocked (the shot)," Havre head coach Mark West said.
The final seconds ticked off the clock after the miss by Brothers, sending the game into overtime.
The first score in overtime came two minutes into play as Belgrade's Travis Wiley grabbed the rebound on a missed three-point attempt and put it back up for the easy score. Herbst followed seconds later with two made free throws, giving the Panthers a four-point lead.
With 53 seconds remaining in the game, Brothers hit a long three-point shot, pulling the Ponies to within one at 62-61. But the Ponies failed to score after that, while Belgrade added six more points.
Belgrade made 6 of 8 free throws in the final minute of play, sealing the victory for the Panthers.
Coach West said his team will come out strong today and promised the Ponies will be in action Saturday.
"We'll be ready for tomorrow," he said immediately after his team's loss. "The kids are disappointed they lost and are upset in how the game ended in the last few minutes. But for the most part, they feel confident they can win."
The Ponies came out of the locker room at the half down by one, 26-25. The teams exchanged baskets for the start of the third quarter before senior Titus Pedraza took control of the game. Pedraza (team high
19 points) scored back-to-back baskets with just under two minutes remaining, giving Havre a brief lead. Pedraza finished with eight points in the quarter.
The Panthers answered as Herbst scored two consecutive baskets for Belgrade, giving them a 43-40 lead going into the final quarter of play.
Brothers hit a three-point shot one minute into the fourth quarter to tie the game at 43-all. The lead changed hands five more times in the quarter before the game went into overtime.
Havre was led by Pedraza's 19 points and Brothers' 15.
Belgrade was topped by Mark Bolin and Herbst, each with 19, and Wiley and Brandon Steadman each with 11.
HAVRE 11 14 15 16 5 61
BELGRADE 12 14 17 13 12 68
Havre Steve Heberly 2, Kyle Sheppard 5, Mike Frey 9, Trent Normandy 2, Cory Brothers 15, Doug Ireland 3, Kevin Harada 2, Titus Pedraza 17, Ryan Lusin 6.
Belgrade Travis Wiley 11, Brandon Steadman 11, Ken Herbst 19, Bill Cooper 6, Caleb Salisbury 2, Mark