HHS girls look to end Fairfield's magical streak tonight at the HHS gymnasium, then clinch Central A at Lewistown
As far as regular season basketball goes, this weekend is as big as it’s going to get for the Havre High girls basketball team.
The Central A Blue Ponies will play two big games, but they’re not just any games. First up is tonight’s much-anticipated showdown with the Fairfield Eagles, followed by Saturday’s road trip to Lewistown. In Lewistown, HHS can clinch the Central A regular season title with a win.
Tonight, the Ponies will host Fairfield at 7 at the Havre High gymnasium. Tonight is also senior night for the Ponies. Saturday HHS will return to conference play in Lewistown. A win over Lewistown will mean another league title, as well as a season sweep.
The No. 4 Ponies are 10-4 overall and 6-0 in the Central A this season and have been playing very well. Fairfield is not a conference opponent and is undefeated, a streak that stretches back four seasons. Typically the Ponies don’t spend a lot of time preparing for teams outside the conference, but the Eagles may be a special case. This is the first-ever meeting between HHS and the Eagles, who have one of the greatest dynasties in Montana girls basketball going right now. The Eagles, coached by former Chester/J-I mentor Dustin Gordon, have won a Montana-record 93 straight games, not to mention the last three Class B state titles.
No. 1-ranked Fairfield has dominated the competition this year and the Eagles have talented group of players. One standout the Ponies will face is Jill Barta, a senior already committed to play for Gonzaga next season. The 6-4 Barta is averaging 24.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.3 blocks per game and is joined by fellow seniors Kaylee Baeth, Kourtney Coverdell and Kaylynn Coverdell, also standout players.
Fairfield handed Browning a 80-38 loss earlier this season, so the Ponies know they are a talented program to say the least.
“Fairfield has a good team with really, really good players,” Havre High head coach Dustin Kraske said. “They have had a fantastic season and we are fortunate to have them at our place. They are playing very well, but so are we. And Lewistown is our focus this week. It’s a conference game on the road, and we have to play well, but Fairfield is going to be a great game for us. It will give us chance, just like against Great Falls High, CMR, Conrad and Malta, to get that really good non-conference game where we have to play at a very high level to be successful. Our kids are up to the challenge for sure.”
Offensively and defensively, the Ponies will have to play at an extremely high level to be the first team to knock off the Eagles in just under four seasons now.
Defense has been the backbone of the Ponies’ success, but it may be difficult to stop a team that has four or five girls who can score double digits on any given night. Rebounds will be key, as will being active in the passing lanes and challenging every shot. Havre’s up-tempo pressure and half-court man defense will be tested. Haley Ohm will also be tested if Barta plays inside, as she can also play on the perimeter. But the offense will also have to be ready to go, as teams have found it difficult to keep pace with Fairfield’s scoring ability. Brandy Lambourne and Peyton Filius lead Havre's offense, both with more than 12 points per game, and Morgan Mazurkiewicz, Lacey Waid, and Tori Mazurkiewicz will also need impressive outings as the ability to hit outside shots could be a major benefactor in a win or loss.
“I don’t think there is just one thing we have to do well,” Kraske said. “Our team has to play well overall. We have to defend like we defend normally, and our offense has to continue to play relaxed.”
Playing Fairfield, having the chance to end one of the most amazing winning streaks in Montana prep history, is exciting, especially since Havre will try and beat the Eagles on senior night. But Kraske isn’t kidding when he says his team is focused on beating Lewistown. A win Saturday night would mean HHS’s third straight Central A regular season title, and the No. 1 seed at the Central A tournament.
HHS defeated Lewistown 68-35 in early January, but the Golden Eagles typically play better on their home court. Mikaela Olson has been out of the lineup, but should be back, along with her 10 points per game. Jaree Mane and Jessica Kindzerski also add to the individual talent that the Golden Eagles will throw at the Ponies on offense and defense.
“I am not concerned about us not being focused to play because I know we will be ready to go,” Kraske said. “But we are going to have to play better there than we played here, but that is how we always feel when we play on the road. The score up here isn’t going to do anything to help us down there. We start back at zero and still have to play.”
If Havre can continue to do the things well that has brought them success this season, then the Ponies should come away with another league win. The game plan doesn’t change any this late in the season and the Ponies haven’t dominated the conference the last three years just by chance.
Both games are important to HHS for different reasons, and the Ponies are ready and looking forward to the competition.
“It is a good weekend to be a Blue Pony,” Kraske said. “We have two wonderful games as we wind down the last month of our season.”
Tonight, the Ponies will host Fairfield at 7 at the Havre High gymnasium. Saturday, HHS will return to conference play in Lewistown.