Blue Ponies ride past cold-shooting Maroons

By Bruce Sayler

Butte Central had to take off its championship crown on Thursday. Who will pick it up to wear will be decided on Saturday night.

Havre stamped itself a serious contender with a start-to-finish 55-41 victory over the Maroons in the first round of the state Class A high school girls’ basketball tournament being held in the Butte Civic Center. Butte Central will play Laurel at 12:30 p.m. on Friday in a loser-out game, and Havre will take on Columbia Falls at 6:30 p.m. in the semifinals. Columbia Falls beat Laurel 59-35 in Thursday’s tourney opener. Stats

Havre 5-foot-6 senior Naomi Terry drilled a 3-point basket off a pass from Danielle Wallace 34 seconds into the game and the Blue Ponies were ahead for good. Wallace’s possession was one she gained on a rebound.

Already, Havre was looking polished in the important facets and so the lead held up as a Blue Pony zone defense put the chill on Butte Central’s shooters.

Terry went on to score 26 points while teaming with 5-7 freshman Kyndall Keller to form a formidable backcourt duo. Terry scored nine of her points — seven on free throws — while Havre was putting the game away in the fourth quarter. Keller tallied 17 points in the game.

The Maroons cut their deficit to a point twice — 3-2 after Emily St. John made a pair of free throws, and 5-4 when Kloie Thatcher drove to the hoop after collecting a defensive rebound. However, they were never able to pull even, much less go ahead.

“Absolutely, Havre is a good team and they played well,” BC head coach Meg Murphy said. “They’re quick, they have great guards and we matched up like we did. They have an experienced post player.

“We felt confident going in. They run the 3-2 zone (defense) and kids were taking shots. But our kids struggled in the first half and then they didn’t know whether to take shots or not to take the shots.”

In the meantime, the Blue Ponies clogged the key and relied on strong inside help to deny Butte Central penetrators the hoop. The athleticism was such that Havre fenced the Maroons out of the paint without suffering foul calls.

So, BC needed its outside game. The shots, though, couldn’t find the hoop.

The Blue Ponies led 14-8 before Mollie Peoples connected from just inside the 3-point arc for Butte Central, causing a 14-10 difference at the end of the first quarter. Then, the Maroons were held without a field goal in the second stanza.

Havre outscored BC 12-7 in the frame, limiting  Butte Central to seven made free throws — three by Kloie Thatcher and two each by Bella Sorini and Olivia Bolton. Keller wrestled away a steal and took it in for layup for Havre’s first points of the frame, then canned a 3-pointer with 1 minute, 32 seconds left in the half. The Blue Ponies owned a 26-17 lead at halftime.

“Bolton hit a couple of (3-point) shots for us in the second half and you could see the difference,” Murphy said. “They opened things up. But, we don’t shoot 20 threes in a game. If you look at  our stat sheets and see a game where we shot 23 threes, we probably didn’t win.

“We’re a defensive team and we needed to penetrate and draw more fouls. We didn’t take care of opportunities and we settled for 3-pointers, instead. Live and die by the 3.”

The Maroons were 2-for-20 from 3-point land in the game, and shot just 27 percent overall from the field. They were 4-for-22, 18 percent from the floor in the first half.

“We don’t usually shoot 19 percent from the field,” Murphy said, acknowledging, too, that when BC drivers did crease the key, they faced a wall of defenders.

“They didn’t move anybody,” Murphy commented.

Havre picked up successful foul shots from Keller, then a Terry drive for a basket and led by 30-17 a minute and a half after intermission. Thatcher converted a basket-and-one play, but the Blue Ponies came back with another Terry drive and two more Keller charity tosses. Bolton revved the BC offensive engine a bit with a 3-pointer from the corner.

She hit another, from the elbow a little more than a minute later to bring the margin back to 10 points, 36-26. The gap melted to less than 10 points, 40-31, after another Thatcher three-point play just before the fourth quarter began.

Butte Central surged to start the final frame. Bolton glassed in a baseline layup after fielding a gorgeous bounce pass Thatcher threaded through traffic from around the top of the key. Cayara Plante netted a freebie for Havre, then St. John scored on a drive, and followed with a steal that resulted in two free throws. She caged both.

Havre’s lead was down to four points, 41-37, with 5:03 on the clock.

Terry starched the comeback with a driving basket, The Blue Ponies gained the ball back and Terry sank one of two foul shots. Bella Sorini scored for the Maroons on a short shot with 3:14 to go.

With time slipping away, BC was forced into fouling to stop the clock and gamble for scoring chances.

So, Keller and Terry drained four straight charity tosses, then Danielle Wallace hit on one of two, Terry missed a pair, but the difference was 10 points, 49-39, with only 1:31 remaining in the game.

St. John took a pass from Bolton for a layup. Terry, though, made two freebies as Thatcher fouled out. A tied-ball call went Havre’s way. Terry again went to the line to sink two more free throws. Wallace blocked a shot by Peoples and the BC star immediately fouled her. It was Peoples’ fifth and Wallace meshed two more foul shots for the final 55-41 margin.

Murphy spun the near future with a dose of positive.

“Not a lot of kids get to play for first, second and third in the state tournament,” she said, alluding to Butte Central’s runner-up finish to Hamilton in 2015 prior to last year’s 55-48 championship win over Columbia Falls, Peoples, St. John and Thatcher are third-year starters and can be parts of the trophy sweep if they achieve third place this year.

“We can choose to just lace our shoes up and lie down, or to try to go play in the third-place game before a good Butte crowd,” Murphy said.

The Maroons will need to beat Laurel on Friday, and win another loser-out game on Saturday morning to reach the third-place contest that evening.

Thatcher led the BC scoring on Thursday with 13 points and Bolton finished with 12. St. John scored eight points, Sorini four, and Peoples and Corbyn Holm had two each. Tricia Joyce, Caleigh Mullaney, Emma Keeley and Cassidy Strizic also played.

Butte Central is now 16-7 for the season while Havre improved to 16-6.