GREAT FALLS — All season long, Havre head coach Dustin Kraske said he didn’t want to talk about being undefeated.
“Ask me after the season,” he would say.
Well coach, your team just beat Hardin 42-35 in the Class A state championship to finish 24-0. How does it feel?
“That is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s hard to describe it. There aren’t words.”
Here’s one word. Perfect.
Havre and Hardin, meeting for a second time in two weeks with a title on the line, put on a defensive showcase for the thousands of fans at the Four Seasons Arena. Hardin led 9-8 after one and 18-17 at halftime despite hitting just two field goals in the entire first half.
The Bulldogs were 13 of 16 from the free throw line which gave them a one point advantage over Havre after 16 minutes. The only player that didn’t have trouble scoring in the first half was Havre sophomore Kyndall Keller who scored 10 points at the break and finished with a game high 12.
“Hardin came out and played the best defense we’ve seen all season long to be frank,” Kraske said. “They made us uncomfortable. We turned it over and did some goofy things, but our kids adjusted. And I think that’s a credit to our team, that we can play at a little different pace. Our kids did that and handled it well.”
It helps when you have senior leaders like Marca Herron and Kaylee Nystrom. Havre led 24-23 after a back and forth third quarter when the two guards came up big, scoring the first 12 Havre points of the fourth quarter to take an 11 point lead with 3:24 remaining.
“They mean everything to the program and it shows,” Kraske said. “They’re the heart and soul of our team. Those two kids along with our other three seniors. They work their tail off all the time, they get our kids in the gym and they’ve shown the way to success and we’re happy for that.”
Herron finished with 11 points to cap her high school career. The senior guard will join the basketball team at the University of Providence next winter, but will never forget this perfect season.
“We get to take home a state trophy,” Herron said, her voice still cracking with emotion. “And we made school history and we did something that a lot of teams can’t do. It’s like a dream come true for us seniors, we’ve ben through highs and lows but we did it together as a team.”
Karissa Dushane led Hardin in scoring with 10 points, but the Bulldogs were held to just 15.9-percent shooting on 7-of-44 from the field. Free throws kept the Bulldogs in the game, going 18-of-24 from the line.
As for Havre, they have a parade to plan Sunday on the Hi-Line. This is the Blue Pony girls fifth state title, after championships in 1976, 1978, 1997 and 2014.
“Our kids, what I appreciate about them is we coach them hard,” Kraske said. “And they take it and they know it’s nothing personal, we’re just trying to get better. They bought into it. The highest level that this team could perform was a state championship. And they performed at that level. I’m so proud of them.”