Challenging: Pony girls still alive
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After the Havre High girls basketball team lost to the Lewistown Golden eagles 50-43 on Thursday night, the Blue Ponies' state hopes took a big hit. But taking the long way through the loser-out bracket, the Ponies have worked their way into the next-best scenario at the Central A tournament. Saturday at Paris Gibson Middle School in Great Falls, the Ponies defeated the Belgrade Panthers 54-48 in overtime. And at the CMR Fieldhouse later that night, the Ponies defeated the Browning Indians 46-40 in the Central A consolation game. That win set up a chance for Havre to challenge second-place Livingston tonight at 7 back in Great Falls. The winner of tonight's game will advance to the Class A state tournament. "We could have easily folded after losing to Lewistown," Havre High head coach Dustin Kraske said. "We know we didn't play well on Thursday, but I guess now hindsight is 20/20. If we were going to play poorly that was the day to do it. Not that that you ever want to lose, but if it had to happen that was the day." The consolation game was the second game of the day for the Ponies. And though they defeated the Indians twice in the regular season, the game was close from start to finish. In the first quarter the Ponies didn't shoot all that well. They were 0-of-7 from 3-point range, but Hayley Donovan's six points gave the Ponies a 9-7 edge after the first eight minutes were in the books. To start the second frame Cassi Darrah knocked down a trey, but in the quarter the Ponies were just 1-of-4. Both the Indians and Ponies scored 10 points in the second quarter and the Ponies took the 19-17 halftime lead. Starting the second half the Ponies struggled. They scored five points in the opening minutes, but didn't knock down another shot until Darrah connected on a trey just beating the buzzer. The Indians outscored the Ponies 11-8 and took a 28-27 lead with one quarter left to play. Down the stretch HHS stepped up. They trailed the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, but Paighton Gilman gave the Ponies the 35-34 lead with a two point field goal. The game was tied again at 38-38, but in the last minute of the game the Ponies got the edge with Donovan and Darrah going 4-of-4 from the line as well as two Darrah field goals. "I thought that both teams were tired," Kraske said. "But honestly I thought that our kids were a little more tired and they really gutted up at the end and got a couple defensive stops." "It looked like our kids were pretty determined," he added. "I was proud of them, it was a total team effort." Darrah and Donovan both finished with 14 points for the Ponies. Donovan led with 12 rebounds and Jaclyn Evans finished with nine points while Gilman added eight. Evans also had four steals while Cali Freier had four assists and eight total rebounds. The Panthers also gave the Ponies some trouble on Saturday's loser-out action. In the regular season the teams split their two matchups, but this time around the Ponies had what it took to capture the win down the stretch. "Belgrade is a great team," Kraske said. "I was proud of our kids. They played with a lot of character which we knew they had and we were really fortunate to get a win." Darrah had another outstanding game, leading the Ponies with 28 points, three assists and two steals. "We kind of jumped on Cassi's (Darrah) shoulders for a bit and she really helped us out," Kraske said. "It was nice to see." Freier stepped up as well, netting eight points and grabbing six rebounds. Gilman and Evans both had seven points, while Donovan led the team with 10 rebounds. After taking a 10-8 lead the Panthers pounced back in the second quarter. They outscored the Ponies 15-12 and took a 23-22 lead at the break. In the third quarter Sierra Monger was 3-of-3 from behind the 3-point arc and helped the Panthers out to a 38-35 lead. But, in a big fourth quarter, the Ponies answered back. The Panthers were 0-of-3 from three, and the Ponies held them to just eight points in the quarter. HHS totaled 11 points in the quarter, but it was Gilman's two-point field goal that tied the contest at 46-46. Evans had an attempt at a trey with eight seconds left to play, but after missing the Ponies' defense stepped up and didn't even allow a lastsecond shot by the Panthers. In overtime the Ponies made their move, holding the Panthers to just two points while scoring eight themselves. HHS was 6-of-7 from the free-throwline in the four minutes of overtime, and captured the six-point win. It was a big task for the Ponies to work their way back to the consolation game. But the hard work paid off, and tonight the Ponies will face the Livingston Rangers in the challenge game at 7 at the CMR Fieldhouse. Butte Central shocked Livingston in Saturday night's Central A title game. "Our kids will be ready to play," Kraske said. "They will come out ready because Park (Livingston) is a heck of a team. We are going to have our hands full, and I would like to think that they think they have their hands full too." The Rangers swept the Ponies during the regular season, but the Ponies like their chances. They played very well all weekend, and know what they have to do to earn a spot in the Class A state tournament. "We have a few things up our sleeve that we didn't do much here and we will give that a try." Kraske said. "But our kids need to make plays and be the competitors that they are. If we can play together, collectively rebound, maybe have a little fun out there and value the ball we will be in good shape."