By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Two-day road trips are always a tough task for a high school basketball team, especially when you are in the middle of three games in three days. Sometimes just playing well is half of the battle. That was the case for the Havre High girls basketball team as the Ponies earned a split this weekend in a pair of important Central A conference games in Belgrade and Livingston.
On Friday night, the Ponies scored a 69-59 win over a vastly improved Belgrade Panther team, thanks to some very good defense and a standout night from senior Whitney Barnekoff.
The Ponies jumped out to an early lead on the Panthers and used a suffocating pressure defense that would eventually force the Panthers into 30 turnovers on the night. The turnovers, combined with a hot shooting night from the outside, helped Havre to a 34-28 halftime lead. The Ponies also broke out for 25 points in the fourth quarter to put the Panthers away and go to 1-0 in conference play.
"I was very happy with the way we played against Belgrade," said HHS head coach Jason Wirt. "We got beat on the boards and that kept us from really pulling away from them.
"But we shot 46 percent from the field and we were taking really good, confident shots and knocking them down," he added. "I also really liked our effort defensively. The kids played hard and we were able to force them into a lot of turnovers."
Barnekoff had her best night as a Blue Pony, going 8-12 from the field and 4-4 from the three-point line for a team-high 22 points. Amy McLain also had a solid outing with 11 points and 10 assists. As a team, Havre was 9-17 from beyond the three-point line.
"Amy and Steph (Flatau) both played really well and Whitney had a great all-around game for us," Wirt said. "Our effort and intensity was very good and we just played a very solid game."
Belgrade standout Jen Smith paced the Panthers with a game-high 27 points. Amy Bolen added 10 points.
The following afternoon in Livingston the Ponies were not so fortunate as they fell to a vastly improved Runnin' Rangers team, 63-53.
Havre's hot shooting cooled off somewhat and the Ponies were also suffering from a little early season fatigue after two hard-fought games in two nights. Still, Wirt said that his team played well despite the poor shooting performance.
"I think Saturday's game was a combination of things," Wirt said. "We executed our gameplan and we held Shannon Bosley in check. Every girl that guarded her did a really good job. But we just didn't shoot the ball as well as we did on Friday night."
The Rangers took a sizable lead in the second quarter before Havre stormed back-scoring 20 points in the period to pull within one at 37-36 at halftime. In the second half, Havre fell behind again by as many as 13 points in the third quarter and 16 points in the fourth quarter. Both times they got the deficit down to six points, but they could never get any closer.
"It just seemed like we could never get that one crucial stop when we really need it," Wirt said. "But I was really happy with the way we kept battling back every time we got down."
The Rangers got a very balanced scoring attack led by Lydia Thiry's game-high 15 points. Brianna Ackerman and Sara Mayer chipped in 11 points a piece. The Ponies were led by Justine Erhard's 13 points, but she was forced to the sidelines with an injured hand in the third quarter, which cost the Ponies their hottest shooter at the time. Alexa Lipp also had 12 points in the losing effort.
Havre is now to a 2-1 start and is 1-1 in conference play. The Ponies will be back in action on Thursday when they host Great Falls High.
In all, Wirt was very happy with his team's start this season.
"It was a tough road trip this weekend against two strong teams," he said. "I am very satisfied with a split this weekend, and I thought we played very well."
Havre 69, Belgrade 59
Havre 15 19 10 25 - 69
Belgrade 12 14 18 15 - 59
Havre - Amy McLain 11, Steph Flatau 9, Kelsey Evans 2, Alexa Lipp 6, Justine Erhard 9, Keelie Solomon 7, Lena Suek 3, Whitney Barnekoff 22.
Belgrade - Rachel Frost 3, Elizabeth Coughlin 3, Keri Hein 5, Amy Bolen 10, Hannah Benson 8, Jaylene Spanning 3, Jenn Smith 27.
Total fouls - Havre 20, Belgrade 16. Fouled out - Hilliard. Three point goals - McLain, Lipp, Erhard 3, Solomon, Suek, Barnekoff 2, Smith.
Livingston 63, Havre 53
Havre 6 20 9 18 - 53
Livingston 12 15 21 15 - 63
Havre - Amy McLain 5, Steph Flatau 3, Justine Erhard 13, Keelie Solomon 5, Kelsey Evans 3, Alexa Lipp 12. Whitney Barnekoff 5, Rebecca Hilliard 7.
Livingston - Jessica Payne 4, Sara Meyer 11, Sage Andendi 6, Lydia Thiry 15, Agnes Kesting 1, Brainna Ackerman 11, Cissy Story 6, Shannon Bosley 9.
Total fouls - Havre 18, Livingston 15. Fouled out - none. Havre 7 (Erhard 3, Solomon, Evans, Lipp, Barnekoff), Livingston 3 (Thiry 3).