By Tiffany L. Rehbein
The young versus the old.
The C.M. Rustlers start one freshman, one sophomore, one junior, and two seniors. The Havre Blue Ponies start four seniors and one junior.
The Blue Ponies travel to Great Falls to play the Rustlers at the CMR Fieldhouse Thursday.
"They are very athletic," said head Havre coach Dennis Murphy. "They are probably the most athletic team we will face this season. And, they are probably one of the better passing teams we will also face."
The youthful CMR team, voted in the preseason to finish in the cellar of the Eastern AA, is one of the most promising in the state.
Jason Goodman, a freshman at 6-foot-3, averages 9.5 points per game. Justin Hartman, a sophomore, is the smallest starter at 6-foot, and averages 15 points per game to lead the team.
"We are going to have to do a good job defensively, especially off the ball," Murphy said. "Those little weaknesses against a team like CMR will show up."
Havre senior Ricky Brown, a 3-point threat, leads the Blue Pony attack offensively, averaging more than 19 points per game.
Nate Baltrusch and Landen Grant are also tough offensively, averaging double figures in scoring this season.
Grant, at 6-foot-3, leads the Ponies in rebounding. In more than three games, he has tallied more than 10 rebounds.
Cliff Cooper, a 6-foot-4 senior, is also big inside for Havre. Chris Young, a senior, and Ryan Fink, a junior guard, are quick in the frontcourt for the Ponies.
The Blue Ponies (4-5) will be trying to find the winning track. They have won one game during the past five tries on the court.
The Rustlers (3-2) are coming off a huge 35-point win against cross-town rival Great Falls High. The Bison defeated the Blue Ponies by six points early last week at Havre.
"We are going into their place, and it might be like a dog fighting a cat. Unfortunately, we are the cat," Murphy said.
The Rustlers also start senior Mitch Hatzenbeller, who averages 10.7 points per game, Mike Schmidt, a senior who averages 8.7 points per game, and junior Landon Danelson.
The Rustlers bench is also a threat. Freshman Zach Danelson, and sophomores Tyler Graham and Mike Murphy also play tough.
"CMR put a tremendous amount of time in the offseason playing," Murphy said. "Because of all their hard work and dedication in the offseason, they are reaping the benefits now."
Havre relies upon big men Jesse Suek and Nick Crawford, and shooting guard Scott Rice to spark them from the bench.
A total of only 11 points have divided the Ponies from their opponents during the past three losses. The losses came at the hands of Lewistown (73-71), Great Falls High (58-52), and Malta (62-59).
The Ponies will be looking for the extra pass and to set good screens offensively to break down the Rustlers' young defense.
"The big thing for us is to continue to get better," Murphy said. "We are doing things, so that we are better now than we were last week. Unfortunately, so are the other teams, so it always seems like we are playing catch up."
Varsity tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m.