By Derek Hendrickson
GREAT FALLS — The Belgrade Panthers eliminated the Havre Blue Ponies from the Class A State Tournament Saturday morning in consolation play.
The win sets up a third and fourth place match-up with Laurel tonight for the Panthers, who improved to 16-7 on the season.
The turning point in this one came with the game 20-16 midway through the third quarter. Sophomore superstar Dane Warp came out of the locker room aggressive and quickly had the Ponies energized.
After a steal he drove to the hoop and clearly thought he was fouled. He jumped over the back of a Panther defender and was called for his third foul. As the referee made the call Warp demonstratively threw his arm and said something to the official who tagged Warp with a technical, his fourth personal.
That was the tipping point the Panthers needed to finally wrestle control of the game away from the Ponies. The four point deficit grew to 12 when Warp checked back in with 6:19 to go in the game.
Warp did attempt to revive the Pony faithful as he drilled a three and then put in a two within :45 seconds of getting back on the court to make it 31-24 but that was as close as Havre would come.
The Panthers easily scored on the gambling Blue Pony defense, going on a 12 point run, which saw three easy baskets down low happen on players defended by Warp, who didn’t risk fouling out.
This was the fourth meeting between the Central A rivals this season, with Belgrade winning the first three, most recently at the divisional tournament, where the Panthers won by 9, 50-41. They also knocked the Blue Ponies off 65-47 and 62-55 previously.
The first half was a closely contested battle between two teams that clearly knew each other well. Havre struggled to score, managing only 6 points in each other first two quarters on 4-for-19 shooting, including 0 for 8 behind the arc.
The Panthers didn’t fare much better, hitting on 7 of their 19 shots. In all six players tied to lead the scoring column with four points apiece, three from each team.
Havre took leads of 2-0, 4-2 and 6-4 before the Panthers were able to put together the game’s first run, ripping off nine straight points to go up 13-6. The Blue Ponies didn’t get their first points of the second quarter until the 3:20 mark and the teams traded points up until the intermission, with Belgrade leading 18-12.
Belgrade was led by its usual top three players. Shiloh Christopher was 6 of 8 from the field for 13 to lead Belgrade. He was joined in double figures by Trevor Mahn who had 12 on 5-of-10 shooting and Brayden Konkol who was 5 of 7.
Koby Ruff did an excellent job of manning the point guard position for the Panthers. He handed out five assists to go with two steals. Konkol was the leading rebounder, grabbing 8 boards in the winning effort.
Belgrade used its 51.3 percent shooting to pull away late, while Havre shot 10 of 46 for 21.7 percent. Warp led the Blue Ponies with 13 points but it took him 18 shots to get there. The Blue Ponies close the season at 8-16 overall but appear to have a bright future as three of their starters are sophomores.