An uncharacteristic first half turned into a rare loss for the Butte Central girls’ basketball team.
The Maroons were held to 18 percent shooting from the field in the first 16 minutes – scoring just 17 points during that stretch – and Havre was happy to take advantage of that.
Naomi Terry scored a game-high 20 points, and Kyndall Keller added 17 as the Blue Ponies knocked off the defending Class A State Champions, 55-41, Thursday afternoon at the Butte Civic Center.
Havre will take on Columbia Falls in one of Friday’s semifinal games, while the door to third-place will remain open for the Maroons.
Butte Central will play Laurel at 12:30 p.m., Friday in a consolation game.
“I can’t take anything away from Havre,” Butte Central coach Meg Murphy said. “They’re a good team and outplayed us in every aspect of the game.
“Hopefully our seniors can get over it in 24 hours and come back (Friday) and play. It’s not the (trophy) they want but you want to come to the state tournament for a trophy.”
Havre, like all teams that played against Butte Central this season, knew that the key to beating the Maroons was to stop Mollie Peoples, Emily St. John and Mollie Peoples.
Unlike most of the other teams who played against the Maroons this season, however, the Blue Ponies found a way to get that done.
“Peoples, Thatcher, St. John, their offense runs through those three,” Havre coach Dustin Kraske said. “All three of them are very skilled fundamentally. They’re right-left kids who can shoot the ball very, very well so we knew if we could somehow stop their penetration and be defensively active on the catch, that we would make it difficult for them to score. Our kids did a really nice job with that.”
How nice of a job?
St. John was held to two free throws in the first half, while Peoples had one field goal. Those points came in the first quarter.
Thatcher had a little more success, scoring five points in the first half.
“We knew we had to go to the basket,” Terry said. “We didn’t think that they could guard all five of us and they only had a couple of people that were playing defense so we were going to shoot it. “We were going to drive to the basket and get fouled. That was the game plan.
“It was really important to do it right in the first half because usually we start off slow. Getting off right way really helped us through the whole game, I think.”
By contrast, Terry and Keller combined to score 18 points in the first half which was more than Central scored as a team.
The Maroons were 0 for 7 from 3-point range in the first half and finished at 2 for 20. That stat in itself was a red flag for Murphy.
“We don’t shoot 20 3s in a game,” she said. “If you look back at our stats, if we shot 20 3s in a game, we probably didn’t win. I’m not saying our kids aren’t good 3-point shooting kids but we ask a lot of our kids defensively and your legs go a little bit quick.
“But it’s no secret that we’re an inside-out team and get to the hole. We didn’t take advantage when they were in foul trouble. We settled for the 3.”
The Blue Ponies took their nine-point halftime lead and extended it to 14 when Keller sank a pair of free throws with 5:23 to play in the third quarter.
Those who have seen Butte Central play often enough knew that the Maroons aren’t going to roll over for anybody.
They closed out the third quarter by outscoring the Blue Ponies, 11-6, behind two 3-points baskets by Bolton.
“In the first half they struggled,” Murphy said of her players. “They went into that shy mode where they weren’t sure if they should shoot or shouldn’t shoot. That’s something they haven’t done in the last month.
“It was evident in the second half when Bolton hit some shots. That takes a lot of pressure off and opens a few things up.”
The comeback carried into the fourth, where the Maroons scored six of the quarter’s first seven points and cut the Blue Ponies’ lead to 41-37.
“We just had to stay calm and not get all frazzled, especially when they started pressing us,” Terry said. “We had to take care of the ball and slow things down on offense.
“It’s really easy to get too excited and not stay calm the whole game.
The Blue Ponies were clinging to a 44-39 margin with 3:12 to play when they made one final run to put the game out of reach. They ended the game on an 11-2 run and turned their attention on their semifinal game.