As the defending Central A Championships twice over, the Havre High girls basketball team knows the importance of conference games.
The Central A Blue Ponies went 4-0 through the first half of conference play this season. This weekend, the Ponies will begin the second go-around with two more conference games on the road. Tonight, the Ponies will face the Livingston Rangers in Livingston. Saturday afternoon, the Ponies will face the Belgrade Panthers in Belgrade. Havre is 7-3 overall.
HHS has played all but one conference game at home to this point. Two important games on the road are never easy, but the talented Ponies are still looking up.
"We are pretty confident in ourselves because we are playing well," Havre High head coach Dustin Kraske said. "I would think Livingston and Belgrade have made some adjustments, but that is everybody for the most part. But everybody knows conference games on the road are difficult and we have to play our best if we want to do well. I anticipate our girls will play well."
The Ponies defeated the Rangers by nearly 40 points last time, as well as turned around and beat the Panthers by 20 the next night. Havre's up-tempo style and pressure defense gave both teams trouble. Havre also has too many offensive weapons for most teams to stop, but if the Ponies aren't playing up to their own high standards, they aren't untouchable.
Belgrade played the Ponies tight through the first half in the first matchup and coach Kraske can relate that to the Ponies' defensive efforts.
When the HHS defense is aggressive, they are tough to get past. The Ponies execute a full-court press at a very high level and shut down an offense in the half court with their man defense. The lively defense has come up with 87 steals already this season, as well as earned a reputation for forcing tough shots and almost no fast break buckets. Brandy Lambourne leads the Ponies with 19 steals this season.
It is no coincidence that when the HHS defense plays well, the Blue Pony offense and team as a whole plays well. That is why defense is the main focus moving forward.
Livingston's Megan Schoenen will be tough to stop, as will Belgrade's Erin Singleton and Alexis Clingingsmith.
"I think that against Belgrade the first time, we didn't play as well defensively as we would have liked," Kraske said. "The mindset that we have now means we need to have more consistency and balance, and I think that will be the difference in both of these games this weekend. We are feeling good about where our offense is at, but we need to have the mindset about playing big time defense every time down the floor no matter the score. That is our goal this week, we want to play influential defensively, and we are going to force teams to play how we play.
Sharing the ball, making the extra pass and finding the best possible shot has been crucial for the HHS offense. It has allowed not only Peyton Filius to average more than 12 points per game, but also Lambourne more than 10 and Morgan Mazurkiewicz nearly nine per game. Havre also gets good balance with Haley Ohm, Lacey Waid and Tori Mazurkiewicz.
It's a big weekend for the Ponies as they can all but lock up the regular season title with two more wins. Tonight, the Ponies are in Livingston to take on the Rangers at 5. Saturday the Ponies will face the Panthers in Belgrade at 2 p.m. Both games can be heard on 610 AM KOJM.