By Kim Staudinger
Just a little freshman kid from Havre.
Those were the words Havre freshman Kyle Baltrusch heard going into Saturday's semifinals round of the State Class A Tennis Tournament in Kalispell.
Baltrusch, who won the divisional crown last weekend, made his opponents eat those words. Baltrusch defeated his semifinal opponent at state, Whitefish's Doug Shryock, 6-4, 6-1, and then knocked off Hamilton's Dustin Frye, 7-5, 6-0, to take the singles championship.
After winning, Baltrusch showed little emotion just a simple pump of the fist.
"It still hasn't gotten to me yet," Baltrusch said Monday. "It was just another match, just another weekend."
Baltrusch's title match wasn't the only exciting moment of the weekend for the Ponies. Going for their third straight state title, the Ponies needed a win from doubles team Seth Maristuen and Jeremy Heninger to seal the championship.
In front of a crowd of more than 500, the duo won a nail-biter over Bigfork's Chase Averill and Brent Benkelman 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, (8-6), for third place and sealed the team title for Havre. The title capped an undefeated season for the Havre boys team.
Going into the third set of the consolation finals match, Havre coach Sam Dierman told Maristuen, a senior, that they had to win the match in order for the team to win.
"It was cool because everybody was watching us," Maristuen said, noting the crowd was the biggest he had ever played in front of. "There was pressure but we played better."
Said Dierman: "I've never seen a team title come down to a third-set tiebreaker. Jeremy and Seth are down 0-4, then 4-6 and come back to win 8-6. It was remarkable. It is a credit to those two that they never gave up."
Maristuen was a part of the other championship teams. He said this one means the most.
"This was the best one. It felt the best," Maristuen said. "It all came down to us at the end. After we lost, I felt we let the team down. I just wanted to make up for it. We had a lot of people rooting for us but we had a lot of people cheering against us, too."
It was expected that Maristuen and Heninger would play teammates Mike Frey and Daine Solomon in the championship match but Hamilton's duo of Ryan Wells and Aaron Riley shattered that scenario. Wells and Riley upset Maristuen and Heninger in the semifinals and went on to defeat Frey and Solomon in the finals.
Talk about a rollercoaster ride for a coach.
"After the first day of competition, I was hoping that we would have 15 points. We had 16. We were in great shape," Dierman said.
But the second day turned out to be anything but predictable.
After Baltrusch's semifinals match, Dierman thought the team was in great shape. But when Maristuen and Heninger got knocked off, Dierman thought, "Uh-oh, we just blew it."
"Well, Mike and Daine come through (in their semifinals match) and now it's looking good," Dierman said. "After Mike and Daine win their first set, 6-1, against Hamilton, I'm thinking we have it wrapped up. But they lose the next two sets and we are in trouble."
After that, everyone knew it came down to the third- and fourth-place doubles match.
"It was an incredible finish to an incredible season," Dierman said.
Still, the surprise of the tournament was Baltrusch.
"Deep down I felt Kyle was a little over his head playing a defending state doubles champion in the semifinals. Shryock had beat Cody McLain in the first round so I knew it would be tough," Dierman said. " I was hoping that we could place a boys singles player. Then this freshman with 23 whole matches in his high school career goes and wins state singles. Unbelievable."
Of Baltrusch's four matches at state, he faced seniors in three of them.
Also racking up points for the team was the freshman doubles team of Marc Mariani and Gary Wagner.
"I was seriously hoping they would win one match," Dierman said. "They win three. They defeat a Whitefish team that has a defending state doubles champion player on it."
The three freshmen scored 19 points for the Ponies at state.
Junior Cody McLain, runner-up at the state tournament last year, was among the top six placers.
"If he had been on the other side of the bracket, he would have been in the championship match," Dierman said. "He only lost to Shryock during the tournament. It was an incredible team effort."
Three junior girls also made the trip to state for Havre.
The doubles team of Jennifer Gorder and Ryan Hamilton won two matches. Singles player Crystal Pyrak won one match.
"I told the girls that last year we scored three points at state," he said. "I gave them the goal of beating that total. They did. They scored four points. It is a beginning to a stronger girls team that we will have next year if the girls make the commitment to play tennis in the summer."
For the first time in three seasons, Dierman will have all of his girls tennis players back, but he will lose two four-year letter winners on the boys' side.
"Seth Maristuen and Mike Frey have been the heart and soul of this team for the past four years," Dierman said. "They have been a part of three state championships and a second-place state team. They are also four-time divisional champions. These two will be missed deeply by this program."
Maristuen's team records are as follows: Third all-time in points scored at state; tied for first all-time in points scored in boys doubles at state; first all-time in points scored at divisionals; and first all-time in points scored in divisional doubles.
The following are Frey's team records: Sixth all-time in points scored at state; tied for fourth all-time points scored at boys doubles at state; sixth all-time in points scored at divisionals; second all-time in points scored in divisional doubles.