BUTTE — The state basketball tournament makes teams bring their absolute best if they hope to win. Mistakes are magnified playing against the best of the best, and if a team struggles even in the slightest, it is almost impossible to come out on top.
Unfortunately, the young Central A Havre Blue Ponies know that all too well after the conclusion of the 2013 season.
After earning back-to-back regular season and Central A divisional titles this season, the Pony girls made a run into the Class A state semifinals as a No. 1 seed. But following a first-round win Thursday, the Ponies dropped two straight games at the Butte Civic Center in Butte and finished the season 14-9.
On Friday night the Laurel Locomotives defeated the Ponies 46-35 in the semifinals. And on Saturday morning, in loser-out play, the former rival Butte Central Maroons, defeated the Ponies 51-37, ending the Ponies’ season and state tournament run.
“We didn’t make baskets and I think that was the biggest thing,” Havre High head coach Dustin Kraske said. “For the most part we got open looks, but we couldn’t find much rhythm this weekend for whatever reason. But give credit to the teams that we played this weekend.
“But I sure love these kids,” Kraske added. “They had a great year. But it is like I told them in the lockerroom, I am not really a big fan of letting one weekend define what type of success we had. Only two teams come out of here winning, but we had a great year and we will get better from this.”
But after a successful season where the Ponies displayed a very high-octane offense, a sluggish offense unfortunately did the ponies in at the state tournament.
Havre high struggled to knock down shots all weekend, resulting in losses to both the Locomotives and Maroons. The Ponies had opportunities to comeback late, but with the opposition shooting very well from the free-throw-line in both games, the Ponies couldn’t find a way to overcome their slow starts and streaky shooting.
Facing the Maroons on Saturday morning, the Ponies weren’t in a bad position at the half, trailing just 19-18. But in the final 16 minutes HHS was outscored 32-19 as the Ponies shot just 21 percent from the field and 22 percent from behind the 3-point arc. And the Ponies were getting good looks, it wasn’t that the offense wasn't executing, the Ponies just couldn’t find ways to get the ball in the hoop as they hit just 11-of-48 shots on the day.
The Maroons pulled away from the Ponies in the third frame. Peyton Filius gave the Ponies a short lived 21-19 lead with a trey to start the third quarter. But the Maroons rallied for a 10-2 run to stretch the lead to 29-23. In that same stretch the Ponies had four turnovers and took just four shot attempts. The Maroons were up 31-27 heading into the fourth and never let up, including hitting 11-of-18 free throws in the fourth quarter to ensure the win over Havre.
Butte Central knocked down 20 free throws in the game, while the Ponies earned just 10 points from the charity stripe. The Maroons also used their size advantage, out-rebounding the Ponies 42-27. And shooting just 22 percent in the game, the Maroons were able to gain ground as they shot nearly 40 percent from the field.
“You get good looks and you miss them,” Kraske said. “And you get good looks and you make them. You feel drastically different regardless, but the bottom line is you get good looks. Our shooters were shooting nice shots, they just didn’t go into the basket and it is what it is.”
Filius led the Ponies with 12 points, while Morgan Mazurkiewicz hit a handful of key three-pointers to give the Ponies 11 points. Brandy Lambourne also finished with 10, while Lacey Waid scored two and Tori Mazurkiewicz finished with two.
Friday’s loss to Laurel was due to the same storyline. Unfortunately the Ponies just couldn’t find their shooting rhythm at the Butte Civic Center this year.
And once again, the Ponies attempted a comeback, but just couldn’t get the job done after too slow of a start.
In the second half, the Ponies didn’t score a point until the 2:36 mark in the third quarter. HHS trailed 19-11 at intermission, but big-time scorers like Jayde LeFevre and Emily Smarsh got the Locomotives rolling with their outside shooting, stretching the lead to 29-11. Neya Bischoff finally got the Ponies on the board hitting a shot inside as well as the free throw shot to follow.
Bischoff's three points put a stop to a 10-0 run by the Locomotives and started a 12-2 run by the Ponies. Lambourne hit a triple to start the final frame, and the Ponies followed with big shots by Filius and Bischoff as well. The Locomotives held a 33-29 lead with just over two minutes to play and the Ponies looked poised to turn in another comeback win. But once again, free-throw shooting by the opposition was good enough to keep the Ponies from earning a spot in the champinship game.
In the game, the Locomotives were 20-for-26 from the free-throw-line. But the most important foul shots came in the final two minutes, as Laurel was 13-for-14 from the charity stripe, keeping the surging Ponies at bay. In the same time period, HHS was 1-for-5 from the line, committed four turnovers, scored six points, and hit just two field goals, as the game clock wound down.
Morgan Mazurkiewicz scored 11 points, Waid added seven and Lambourne and Bischoff scored six each for Havre in the loss to Laurel. The Blue Ponies shot only 16 percent from the floor in the first half, but 42 percent in the second half to turn what appeared to be a runaway Laurel win into a close contest.
“Our rhythm looked good,” Kraske said. “It just didn’t go in and that’s unfortunate. Credit to our kids to keep shooting. It takes a lot of character to keep shooting when you haven’t hit a couple. That’s the way it goes and I was happy our kids continued to battle it out and get shots for the most part, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
But the Ponies are faithful they can, and will build from this season as they will return four starters and the majority of the team next season.
Bischoff had a solid season for the Ponies in her final prep year. She averaged over six points per game and over six rebounds per game, as well as had a solid state tournament.
“She has been great,” Kraske said. “She did a real nice job for us down the stretch and actually had a really good state tournament. I am glad she ended her career on a very high note, and we are going to miss her. She plays hard, she defends very well, blocks out and rebounds, and she is always giving up about three or four inches every time we play somebody. She has really had to hold her own this year, but she did a great job.
“And I think we got experience playing here,” Kraske added. “But lets be honest, you have to play better than we played. Yes we missed shots, but we have to play better than we played and I think that is the best thing we can leave here with. We have a great group of kids and have nice youngsters coming back. We are going to get back to work.”
Laurel defeated Billings Central for the state championship Saturday night, while Central A Browning won the consolation game.
Laurel 46, Havre 35 (sf)
Laurel 9 10 12 15 – 46
Havre 4 7 7 17 – 35
Laurel — Jayde LeFevre 22, Allie McGrath 2, Leslie Gappa 5, Emily Smarsh 8, Lexi Budge 2, Dalayna Christenson 2, Hailey Spitzer 2, Abbie Lohof 3. Totals: 11-34 20-26 46.
Havre — Brandy Lambourne 6, Morgan Mazurkiewcz 11, Lacey Waid 7, Peyton Filius 5, Neya Bischoff 6, Totals: 13-43 6-16 35.
Butte Central 51, Havre 37 (lo)
Butte Central 10 9 12 20 – 51
Havre 7 11 9 10 – 37
Butte Central – Hannah Stajcar 7, Alysea Pica 18, Danika Neumann 8, Mariah Cooney 15, Chandra McCurdy 1, Aleesha LaBreche 2. Totals: 15-18 20-31 51.
Havre – Brandy lambourne 10, Morgan Mazurkiewicz 11, Lacey Waid 2, Peyton Filius 12, Tori Mazurkiewicz 2. Totals: 11-48 10-15 37.