Central A Preview: Pony girls open with Lewistown
The regular season is played in preparation for the post season tournaments. Records are thrown out the window, and the Havre High girls basketball team is hoping a little more success comes its way.
Today through Saturday the Blue Ponies will be in Belgrade for the Central A divisional tournament. The Ponies claimed the No. 5 seed with a 3-7 record and will open up tournament play against the No. 4 Lewistown Golden Eagles who enter the tournament with a 5-5 record.
Other first round action includes the No. 3 Browning Indians (6-3) taking on the No. 6 Livingston Rangers (1-9). Both the No. 1 Butte Central Maroons and No. 2 Belgrade Panthers earned first round byes. The Maroons will await the winner of Havre/Lewistown matchup and the Panthers will await the winner of the Browning/Livingston matchup in semifinal action.
"We had our hands full with Lewistown this season," Havre High head coach Dustin Kraske said. "Especially here at home. I like our chances at divisionals, I think our kids are at the best possible place right now, having won the last two games. We really played well in February, and I think we finally in a place where we understand how to play together."
During the regular season the Ponies faced the Rangers twice, once at home and once on the road. The first time around the Ponies suffered a 53-36 loss on the road, and the second time around the Ponies suffered a 47-44 loss in overtime at the Havre High gymnasium.
The way the Ponies improved against the Eagles says a lot about the Ponies in general.
After taking fourth place at state a year ago, the Ponies returned a very young and inexperienced squad this season. And at the beginning of the season, that youthfulness showed. The first time the Ponies faced the Rangers, it was just their fourth game of the season. But the latest meeting came at the beginning of February after the Ponies had gone through a lot of growing together.
HHS continued to grow and improve all season long. With each game came more progression and it showed. Now getting ready to face a very tough field at the divisional tournament, the Ponies have to play more like they have as of late, and less like the young squad they were at the beginning of the season.
Defense has been a strong suit for the Ponies this season, and Sammy Evans has been a big part of that, especially the second half of the season. But if the Ponies really want to come away successful this weekend, their offense needs to step it up. They are going to have to be able to handle pressure defense from several teams, and their shooting has to improve. On the season the Ponies shot 33 percent from 2-point range and just 15 percent from three.
Paighton Gilman has been a huge part of the HHS offense inside, averaging about 10 points per game, and her ability to score has opened things up for the Pony guards. They have been given open looks, and have struggled to knock them down. But if Jaclyn Evans, Christina Mack and Peyton Filius can knock down some shots from the guard position with more consistency, the Ponies offense will see a big boost in production.
Gilman has also seen an increase in double teams down low, which has also opened things up for outside shooters.
"She (Gilman) has earned that respect," Kraske said. "And now it is time for our other kids who are good scorers to look to score."
With the Maroons suffering just one loss in conference play they have to be a favorite this weekend. But looking at the teams overall, any game can really be won by any opponent.
If the Ponies want to be that team earning the win, they have to just make sure they continue to play as a team and continue to improve.
Today at 2:30 the Ponies will open up tournament play against Lewistown. The tourney will run through Saturday with the girls title game set for 6:30 p.m. The top two teams form Central A move on to the Class A state tournament next week.
All HHS games can be heard locally on 610 KOJM AM. And for tournament updates, see http://www.havredailynews.com.