By George Ferguson
When the 2002-2003 boys basketball season began, Havre High head coach Mark West knew his team was facing a daunting and brutal schedule. Eleven games into the season West and the Blue Ponies are feeling all too well, the reality of what they only imagined two months ago.
The Ponies are coming off of a tough loss in Harlem last Thursday night and a blowout on the home floor at the hands of the Glasgow Scotties.
With no reprieve in sight, the Ponies will travel to Class AA CMR tonight before hosting Lewistown on Saturday night.
"Our schedule is pretty brutal," West said. "It seems like every single game we're playing is against a top notch team."
Tonight the Ponies (5-6) will find themselves in the unfriendly confines of the CMR Fieldhouse to take on the second-ranked Rustlers who are 7-1 on the season. One of those seven wins was a twenty-point victory over the Ponies in Havre on Dec. 20.
In that earlier meeting, CMR used the two-headed monster of 6-5 seniors Jason Goodman and Brady Leaf to wear the Ponies down inside. However, the surprise came from the hot outside shooting of shooting guard Royce Fulp and point guard Zach Danelson, the duo combined for 25 points and really extended the Pony defense allowing them to get the ball inside to Goodman and Leaf.
Normally, CMR is not a solid outside shooting team, but it is still something for the Ponies to be concerned over.
"If CMR does not shoot the ball well we are going to be in the game," West said. "But if they are on like they were in Havre and Leaf is hitting that 15-footer, then they really present a lot of challenges for us."
West also feels like defending Leaf and Goodman in the post is a tall order in itself.
"Those two guys (Leaf and Goodman) are really a chore to defend inside," West said. "Goodman is such a great post player. He passes out of the post well, he moves without the ball really well and he is so strong."
Aside from Havre's defensive challenge, West knows that his team will have to be better on offense than they were last weekend if they are going to hang with the talented Rustlers.
"I think CMR is going to bring a lot of pressure, but I think we can handle the press," West said. "In order to score against them, we are going to have to be a lot more patient offensively and take good shots. If we get out of sync offensively, CMR has the ability to make it really tough on us."
As if the Ponies trip to Great Falls isn't tough enough, their reward will be a Saturday night rematch with the Lewistown Eagles at the Havre High Gymnasium.
On Dec. 19, the Ponies were routed by Lewistown on the Eagles home floor, but West said his teams have been looking forward to getting another shot at their Central A rival.
'We were not playing very well when we went down there," West said. "I feel like we are a much better basketball team now. I know the kids have really been looking forward to getting them (Lewistown) up here."
"We haven't beaten them in several years and so it has turned into a nice little rivalry for us," West continued. "We're going to be really fired up Saturday night and I'm sure they will too."
The Eagles will come to Havre as the fifth-ranked team in Class A with a record of 9-3 going into this weekend's games. The Eagles are coming off of a surprising loss to Livingston last Saturday night and West thinks that the Eagles may have peaked early.
"We didn't play very well in Lewistown and I saw a lot of room for improvement on our team," West said. "Lewistown was playing really well and they haven't played as well lately, but this game is going to be really important for both teams."
The Eagles bring a couple of quality scorers into Havre in seniors Derek Taylor and Doug Longfellow. Taylor is averaging better than 15 points per game while Longfellow is contributing 12 points per contest.
Havre boasts Class A's leading scorer in Cory Brothers, who comes in averaging a little better that 23 points per outing. While Brothers is putting up big numbers, West is hoping for a little more balance on offense.
"I would definitely say we need to have some more balance offensively," West said. "If we can get a little more consistent scoring out of some of our other guys, I think we will be a lot better basketball team."
Tipoff between the Rustlers and Ponies is slated for tonight at 7:30 p.m. That game can be heard on 610 KOJM-AM. The game between Havre and Lewistown will also tip off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night at the Havre High Gymnasium.