After taking the regular season championship in the Central A Conference for the second straight season, the Havre High girls basketball team is poised to make another run at a Central A and Class A state titles over the next two weeks.
Havre High's Brandy Lambourne, right, goes in for a layup during a girls game against Malta last month in Havre. The Blue Ponies are the No. 1 seed and the defending champion at this weekend's Central A Tournament in Great Falls. The Ponies play in the semifinals Friday night.
A year ago the Ponies earned a divisional title before making a trip to the state tournament. This year the Ponies are much improved, and are already set up to grab another Central A championship, earning the No. 1 seed with a 11-7 conference record. Browning (10-8) is second, Belgrade (9-9) is third, Lewistown (3-15) is fourth and Livingston (1-17) is the fifth seed.
The Central A will open today and run Friday and Saturday at the CMR Rustlers' Fieldhouse in Great Falls.
Holding the No. 1 seed, the Ponies have earned a first-round bye in this weekend's tournament. Head coach Dustin Kraske is somewhat indifferent about the bye, knowing the Ponies have some time to keep improving, but also addressing the fact that their semifinal opponent on Friday could go two different ways.
"I think it is nice to have the bye," Kraske said. "But I don't know. It is what it is, we spend the week not knowing exactly who we are going to play, but that gives a chance to focus on us a bit more. We are the only team that doesn't know who we will play right off the bat, but I am happy for the kids, I am happy where we are at, and we will take it from there."
But the Ponies do know they will play the winner of a Livingston/Lewistown matchup.
Both teams have had their struggles with just two conference wins between them. The Lewistown Golden defeated the Livingston Rangers in both meetings during the regular season. But HHS isn't overlooking anybody this weekend, knowing that if the Ponies don't play their best against any and every opponent, their post season run could be drastically altered, or ended. The Blue Ponies are 4-0 against the Rangers and Eagles this season. But both teams have some weapons to watch out for. Megan Schoenen averages over 10 points per game for the Ragners, while Meadow Ingram adds another five. And Makaela Olson averages nearly 12 per game for the Eagles, while Kaylie Grover averages just under seven.
The only conference loss for Havre High came to the Browning Indians at home. It was a matchup where the Ponies played one of their worst games of the season, but the Ponies turned the tables in the season finale to claim the conference title just last week in Browning. The Ponies know they can't have any slip ups or let downs this week, or the Indians could sneak another win, as could a team like the Belgrade panthers if they cross paths.
Browning leads the conference in points per game with more than 56, while the Ponies are second with 48. The Panthers are third with nearly 47 points per game. But the Ponies are also first in the conference in points allowed, holding teams to just under 40 points per game this season.
The HHS defense has played well all season long. The offense has had its share of slumps and cold periods, but the pressure defense has been present all season. The Ponies can run a full court press, or attack a team in the half court. They can come out in several different looks including zone or man, and have the speed and skill to turn turnovers into transition buckets. That will be key if the HHS offense comes out slow in any contest.
But with Peyton Filius playing her best basketball of the season the last couple of weeks, the Ponies' offense looks to be rolling into the post season. Filius is averaging a team high 12 points per game for the Ponies, and is coming off of a 21 point outing against the Indians. Brandy Lambourne also adds nearly 10 points per game for the Ponies, as well as leads the team with her 46 assists this season. Morgan Mazurkiewicz also averages over seven points per game, while Lacey Waid and Neya Bischoff both score over six a game. Mazurkiewicz also has 46 assists this season.
"I think the number one thing for us right now," Kraske said. "As well as any team, is to play our best basketball. Our kids are focused on the fact that we have to be at our very best every time we step on the floor until our season is over. We need to take care of the little things, execute, have fun and play together. That will be a focus this week."
With a first-round bye, the No. 1 seeded Ponies will face either Livingston or Lewistown in the semifinals on Friday at 6 p.m. at the CMR Fieldhouse in Great Falls. The top two teams from the Central A will advance to the Class A state tournament next weekend in Butte.
Central A Girls Schedule
Lewistown vs Livingston, 6:30 p.m.
Browning vs. Belgrade, 1 p.m.
Lewistown-Livingston winner vs. Havre, 6:30 p.m.
Lewistown-Livingston loser vs Browning-Belgrade loser, 9:30 a.m.
Saturday AM winner vs Havre-Lewistown-Livingston loser, 3 p.m.
semifinal winners, 6:30 p.m.