By Jess Green
This year's last regular season girls basketball game for the Havre High Blue Ponies resulted in a 54-51 loss to the Class AA C.M. Russell High Rustlers on Friday night in Great Falls.
Great Falls's Hillary Taylor hit an early one at 7:32 to take the first lead of the game, but Havre's Nikki Baltrusch answered immediately with a shot of her own 15 just seconds later.
The action opened up with both teams playing well. In fact, the two teams virtually traded baskets the entire first quarter. The quarter ended with an 18-13 Rustler lead. Nikki Baltrusch tied the game at 11 each with 3:35 on the clock. After Erin Bimler hit a three-pointer, Baltrusch hit another at 2:18. The Rustlers had a late surge to give them the quarter ending lead.
Blue Pony Nikki Baltrusch had a great first quarter scoring. She hit three field goals to account for six of the Ponies quarter ending tally.
The second quarter started much the same way as the first was played. Havre's Jayla McPherson and LaShae Michels traded shots with Great Falls's Erin Bimler, Sarah Dorr, and Hillary Taylor.
The score was 23-19 in favor of the Rustlers when Ranes hit a field goal at 1:58 to bring the Ponies within four. Amy Patera answer with a shot of her own at 1:26 and it appeared to be business as usual. However, Ranes and teammate Alyssa Matter turned up the heat on the Rustlers late in the second.
Ranes hit a free throw at 1:17 to make it 25-22. The Ponies defense got the ball back on a rebound and Ranes was able to hit a jump shot for two more. The Ponies took their first lead of the game when A. Matter sank one with just 16 seconds left and the half ended 26-25, Ponies.
A. Matter took over where she left off at the end of the half. She opened up the third with back to back field goals at 7:40 and 6:58 to extend the Ponies lead to 30-25.
Amy Patera tried to keep the Ponies honest by adding two to the Rustlers score, but A. Matter and her Blue Pony teammates continued to soar. The Ponies shot up to 37-28 lead by scoring seven unanswered points.
The first to score in the run was A. Matter at 5:17. Breyon Briese made her presence known at 4:56 and A. Matter added a free throw at 4:17. After a short pause in the scoring action, Nikki Baltrusch hit one at 2:42.
Erin Goodman stopped the streak and made it 37-29 with a free throw for the Rustlers, but as soon as regular play reconvened the Ponies continued their outstanding play.
Katie Malsam came on in the third to give her teammates a rest and she didn't miss step. Malsam was fouled on shot at 1:43. The shot went in, was counted, and she finished the three-point play by sinking the free throw. Amy Ranes continued the momentum by making it 42-29 with 32 seconds left.
Erin Goodman scored before the buzzer and ended the third on a positive note for the Rustlers.
The Rustlers rode past the Ponies in the third on the outstanding play of Hillary Taylor and Kodi Kuka. Taylor scored seven fourth quarter points while Kuka scored five. Amy Patera and Erin Goodman each scored four points in the fourth for the Rustlers.
This one went down to the wire. With the Rustlers leading 54-48 and only 12 seconds left, Katie Malsam accepted a full court throw-in and hit the three-pointer. Coach Dennis Murphy called for an immediate time out with six second left.
The game ended with a somewhat controversial Rustler throw-in. The controversy was that the Rustler player who caught the ball was out-of-bounds. The play is legal if the recipient of the pass establishes herself out-of-bounds before catching the ball.
"We had a great run in the third quarter," coach Murphy said. "In the fourth, the tide was turning and we couldn't stop it. "We missed opportunities and CMR executed very well."
For Pony fans, the highlight of the fourth was watching point guard Nikki Baltrusch pressure the Rustlers. In one particular incident, the Rustlers had already erased the Pony lead and were ahead 51-48. Baltrusch fouled Goodman and then proceeded to help her up with a smile. She kept her composure and her good sportsman attitude even when the momentum had shifted and their lead was gone.
The Ponies and coach Murphy must look ahead to divisionals this coming weekend in Anaconda.