By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
GREAT FALLS - When the Havre Blue Ponies and CMR Rustlers hook up in boys high school basketball, rarely is pride or urgency an emotion the Class AA Rustlers have to worry about.
But Thursday night at the CMR Fieldhouse in Great Falls, it was clear that pride and urgency clearly drove the Rustlers to a much needed 69-62 win over the No. 1 ranked Blue Ponies.
The Rustlers jumped all over Havre in the early minutes of the game behind 11 first quarter points from Kellan Carter and never looked back. CMR led the entire contest on its way to avenging a loss in Havre earlier this month.
After the game CMR first-year head coach John Cislo said that his team was carrying a chip on its shoulder, not just with the Blue Ponies, but with how its season has gone thus far.
"I think we played really well in the first half and the kids really came out with a purpose tonight," Cislo said. "They were embarrassed by the way they played in Havre and they played with something to prove tonight.
"Havre is a great team and they beat us pretty easily the first time we played them," he added. "But these kids have a lot of pride and they wanted to make up for the way they played the first time we saw Havre."
Indeed, the Rustlers certainly atoned for their poor offensive output earlier in the month in a 52-32 loss to the Ponies. Carter started the game on fire, scoring 11 of his team's 19 first quarter points as the Rustlers led 19-10.
CMR really took off in the second quarter on both ends of the floor. The Rustlers defensive intensity forced Havre into seven turnovers in the second stanza and CMR ripped off a 12-2 run midway through the period. The spurt was punctuated by Carter, who picked up a loose ball and took it to the other end of the floor for an emphatic two-handed dunk.
By the time the run was over, the Ponies were left stunned, trailing 35-13 with under two minutes remaining in the half. Havre did manage to gather itself and finish the period on a 7-0 run that cut its halftime deficit to 35-20, but HHS head coach John Barnhorst believes that the damage had already been done.
"I just don't think we were ready to play right away tonight for whatever reason," Barnhorst said. "We talked about the fact that CMR was going to be ready to go and that they wanted to win this game very badly. They played with a lot of emotion and intensity in the first half. We just didn't match them at all."
Havre's dismal first half included an 8 for 22 shooting performance from the field. The Ponies also went into the locker room in foul trouble, which would prove to be a thorn in Barnhorst's side the rest of the night as the Ponies were whistled for 25 personal fouls.
Despite the tremendous hole that the Ponies had dug themselves, they did prove that they were capable of coming from way behind for the first time this season.
Marc Mariani, who had a brilliant game despite being in foul trouble, opened the second half with a layup that got Havre off and running. The Ponies managed to stay with the Rustlers throughout the second half thanks to solid play off the bench from Jeremy Giardina, who nailed a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter to cap off a 10-2 run by the Ponies to cut the lead to 11 points at 48-37.
The run that ended the third quarter ignited a torrid final period in which the two teams combined to score 46 points. Havre continued to stay hot as Mariani kept finding ways to keep the Ponies close throughout the period, until he fouled out with 1:21 left in the game.
He nailed a trey with 3:11 left in the game to cut the Rustler lead down to six at 59-53. A minute later Ty Hedalen got Havre to within five points with a turnaround jumper. Havre had clawed its way back into the game with a ferocious full-court press that stymied the Rustlers.
But in the end foul trouble and turnovers would finally cement Havre's fortunes. The Ponies turned the ball over twice on possessions in the final two minutes where they could have trimmed the lead to one possession. CMR ultimately put the game away from the free-throw line - a result of being in the double bonus for much of the final eight minutes.
Despite the disappointment of dropping a such an intense game, Barnhorst credited his team with showing resiliency in the second half and Cislo agreed.
"I was really proud of the kids for being able to turn things around in the second half," Barnhorst said. "We played so poorly at the start of the game, but the kids showed a lot of character tonight in coming back. In the end, we were just too far behind and we turned it over too many times to come all the way back."
Said Cislo: "We made sure that the team understood at halftime that Havre was going to make a run. They are just too good of a team not to fight back and they played a great second half."
Carter had a career night for the Rustlers, scoring a game-high 26 points on 10 of 13 shooting from the field. He also nailed CMR's only two three-pointers and rounded out his night with four steals. Steele paced the Rustler's inside attack with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The win pushes the Rustlers overall record back towards the .500 mark at 5-7. Cislo wasn't about to understate the importance of beating the top-ranked Class A Blue Ponies.
"This was a really big win for us tonight and it was much needed," Cislo said. "We were embarrassed in Havre and we were coming off of a heartbreaking loss to Great Falls High. We needed this win badly and it is big because of how good Havre is. They are a team that I am certain could beat anybody in the Eastern AA this season, so this is big for us."
The Ponies got a team-high 18 points from Hedalen despite being in foul trouble throughout the game. Mariani's night was nothing short of spectacular, scoring 15 of his 16 points in the second half while playing the last 10 minutes with four fouls. He also had six assists and two steals.
Giardina also gave the Ponies a big lift scoring 11 points on three of four shooting. He hit two three pointers and was perfect from the free-throw line.
"I was really pleased with our effort in the second half," Barnhorst said. "The kids were disappointed that we couldn't come all the way back because this would have been big to win here. But we can't let this carry over to Saturday night because we have another big game with Great Falls High."
Havre (11-2) will return home on Saturday night looking to avenge its only other loss of the season when they host the Bison at 5 p.m. at the HHS gymnasium. The game can be heard locally on 610 KOJM-AM.
CMR 69, Havre 62
Havre 10 10 17 25 - 62
CMR 19 16 13 21 - 69
Havre - Patch Wirtzberger 2, Marc Mariani 16, Jeremy Giardina 11, Gary Wagner 6, Jared Weigel 3, Tyson Parman 4, Ty Hedalen 18, Mike Barton 1. Totals: 24-45 11-21 62.
CMR - Matt Hagel 5, Tanner Lagge 5, Kellan Carter 26, David Anderson 8, Austin Mullins 7, Brad Goodman 4, Kelvin Steele 14. Totals: 25-49 17-31 69.
3-point goals - Havre 3 (Mariani 1, Giardina 2), CMR 2 (Carter 2). Total fouls - Havre 25, CMR 18. Fouled out - Mariani, Steele.