A win over Browning last weekend helped the Havre High boys basketball team slide into a three-way tie for first place in the Central A. But being there just one week isn't enough, and Blue Ponies are looking to maintain that top seed with two more conference wins this weekend.
The Central A Blue Ponies have already faced the Livingston Rangers and Belgrade Panthers this season. HHS defeated the Rangers 59-32, but lost to the Panthers 65-47 back in December. And the rematches are set for this weekend. Tonight and Saturday the Ponies (3-1, 5-5) will get their second shot at the conference rivals. Tonight the Ponies will face the Rangers in Livingston and Saturday the Ponies will face the Panthers in Belgrade.
"I think getting two wins would really help solidify us as the top team in the conference," Havre High head coach Curt Leeds said. "And then heading into our final game with Browning, even if we lost that, we would be in a good spot. This is a big weekend for us."
But playing these two teams on the road won't be easy, even as the Ponies go for the regular season sweep over the Rangers tonight.
Defense has been a staple in Havre's success this season. Allowing just 32 points the first time, the Ponies shut down the Livingston scorers. Nick Bragg scored 10, but was the only double-digit scorer on a team that is bigger than the Ponies at nearly every position. Leading scorer Laden Ricketts also missed the first game against Havre, but should be back tonight. The Ponies' full-court press was on display and can hopefully get the job done again. When HHS has the press working right along side their zone defense, the Ponies make it very hard for teams to score.
The Blue Ponies will be satisfied if they can once again get a win by forcing low percentage shots from outside and more than 20 turnovers by the Rangers. The Rangers were 3-of-11 from 3-point range last meeting. But if HHS wants to get two wins this weekend instead of one, or even maybe zero, the Ponies have to have consistent play through both matchups.
"We have come a long way with our zone and man defense since the first time we have played these teams," Leeds said. "I think the boys are excited and ready to get after it."
Belgrade is a very athletic team that can score points in a hurry. Trevor Mahn and Brayden Konkol are standout shooters that can also cut and weave their way into the paint. Defense will be key, but if the first meeting taught the Ponies anything it was that they have to rebound. Havre can't afford to give up second- and third-chance opportunities to a team that typically doesn't have any issues running up the scoreboard.
The Ponies don't want to let either team settle into a groove on offense or defense.
"We are going to look to pressure Livingston again and get easy points off of turnovers," Leeds said. "And against Belgrade, we need to sit back and keep them from getting second and third shots, kind of like we did in our win over Browning. We controlled the game with the boards, and we need to do that against Belgrade. But we really need our defense to lead to good offense too."
The last couple of weeks the Blue Pony offense has really started to blossom. Not only does Dane Warp continue to lead the team in scoring, he is getting a lot of production from a more confident supporting cast. Kade Rismon and Jase Kato continue to find ways to score inside, but shots are also starting to fall from outside by Nate Rismon and Brian Smith.
If the Ponies can put together two strong outings, they could return home with two conference wins and a prolonged stay as the No. 1 seed in the conference.
Tonight the Ponies face the Rangers in Livingston at 6:30. Saturday, HHS takes on the Panthers in Belgrade at 3:30 p.m. Both games can be heard on 61- AM KOJM.