By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
It wasn't exactly pretty basketball. In fact, at times it got downright ugly. But that has been typical of the CMR/Havre High boys basketball rivalry in the past.
In recent years, CMR has always dominated the Ponies with physical, hard-nosed play. But at least for one night, the Havre Blue Ponies were the ones that dished out the physical play and did the dominating.
Havre High used a physical, suffocating defensive effort and solid inside play from Tyler Hedalen to catapult themselves to a 52-32 thrashing of the Class AA defending state champion CMR Rustlers on Thursday night at the Havre High gymnasium.
Defense and strength have been the trademark of the Rustlers the past five seasons, but on Thursday night it was Havre who was the aggressor. The Ponies forced CMR into 19 turnovers and a myriad of missed shots in the paint en route to the easy victory.
After the contest, both HHS head coach John Barnhorst and Rustler first-year head coach John Cislo agreed that the Ponies physical play was the determining factor in the outcome of the game.
"We got beat in the two areas where we are usually very good - defense and rebounding," Cislo said. "Havre was the aggressor tonight and they have a great team.
"They are more physical, more athletic and more talented than we are right now," he added.
Said Barnhorst: "We have talked all season about being a more physical basketball team and the kids have really bought into it. The kids knew that CMR would play very hard and they didn't back down at all. In fact, we were the aggressor tonight. I am just really proud of these guys for not backing down at all."
Not only did the Ponies not shy away from the Rustlers style of play, they actually initiated it, forcing CMR's offense into a struggle mode that it could not escape.
The Ponies jumped out to an early 5-0 lead after Gary Wagner layed in an easy basket. Havre's defense stifled the Rustlers early and the former high-octane CMR offense would not register their first field goal until the 3:42 mark of the first quarter when Kelvin Steele putback a missed layup. From there the two teams see-sawed back and forth until Havre grabbed a 12-11 lead at the end of the period.
That lead would quickly grow in the second quarter as Marc Mariani opened the period with a three-pointer and Hedalen followed that up with a turnaround jumper that gave the Ponies a 17-11 lead. Hedalen's bucket was the first of seven points he would score in the period, leading the Ponies to a 25-18 lead at intermission.
"I think we were a little confused offensively in the first half by all of CMR's different looks," Barnhorst said. "But the kids did such a great job defensively that we were able to get a lead.
"I thought we played much better in the second half offensively and we just did a much better job of attacking them and that enabled us to pull away from them a little bit," he added.
Any hopes of a Rustlers' comeback ended in the third quarter. Havre pushed its lead up to 11 points early in the quarter on a sensational pass from Mariani to Jared Weigel for an easy score.
CMR was able to cut the lead back to nine points on a Tanner Lagge steal and layup, but that was as close as the Rustlers would get the rest of the night.
Weigel closed the third quarter out with a three-pointer as time expired to give the Ponies a 14-point edge, 40-26. He also added seven more points in the quarter - all from the free-throw line.
The final stanza's only drama came in the first two minutes when CMR went to a full court press that forced Havre into four straight turnovers. But CMR never really capitalized on Havre's miscues and got no closer than 10 points.
From there the game's final minutes turned into a Weigel free-throw parade that included a technical foul on Cislo at the 3:22 mark. The Ponies were up 13 points at the time of the technical foul and when the barrage of free-throws ended Havre had secured its first victory over CMR in what seems like an eternity.
Cislo was obviously disappointed with his team's performance, but he made no excuses despite the fact that the Rustlers are enduring their first rebuilding year in recent memory.
"Havre has a great team and they really took it to us tonight," Cislo said. "We might be a little inexperienced basketball-wise, but we can't use that as an excuse for how we played tonight. Most of these kids are coming off of a state championship in football and they know how to play in big games.
"This was a big road game for us tonight and it was a tough atmosphere," he added. "We just got outplayed from the start of the game."
Weigel led all scorers with 17 points, while Hedalen poured in 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Mariani's night included 12 assists and five points. CMR did not get a player into double figures as Lagge led the way with a just nine points.
The loss drops the Rustlers overall record to 2-3 this season while Havre improved to 5-1. While the win no longer counts in the Central A standings, Barnhorst said it is still special.
"This was a great win for this team," Barnhorst said. "This is a team that has beaten us up pretty good for a long time, so I am really happy for these guys.
"I also think this has to give us a lot of confidence going into the rest of the season," he added. "These kids now know that we can play this type of basketball when we have to, and they know that they are capable of playing well against a very good team."
The Ponies will return to Central A conference play when they travel to Butte on Saturday. The game between Havre High and Butte Central is scheduled to tipoff at 5 p.m.
HAVRE 52, CMR 32
CMR 11 7 8 6 - 32
Havre 12 13 15 12 - 52
CMR - Matt Hagel 3, Tanner Lagge 9, Cody Vukasin 6, David Anderson 1, Matt Schoonover 4, Austin Mullins 1, Brad Goodman 2, Kelvin Steele 6.
Havre - Marc Mariani 5, Jeremy Giardina 3, Gary Wagner 7, Jared Weigel 17, Ty Hedalen 16, Mike Barton 2.
Three point goals - Havre 3 (Giardina 1, Mariani 1, Weigel 1). CMR 0. Total fouls - Havre 14, CMR 18. Technical fouls - CMR (Bench). Fouled out - none.