BOZEMAN — Basketball season is in full swing across the state and in Gallatin County the new crosstown rivalry between Bozeman and Gallatin high returns to the hardwood Friday night, and on the boy's side, it’s a battle for sole control of Eastern AA as both teams lead the conference.
“We just want to come out, and we want to compete," Raptors head basketball coach Mike Claxton stated. "We want to see where we’re at against a very good Bozeman Hawks team. It’s going to be a heck of a test for us.”
In their first-ever crosstown meeting last winter, the Raptors stunned Bozeman with a narrow two-point victory in what happened to be one of their only two wins that inaugural season.
The Hawks did get their vengeance the second time around, but that first crosstown still stings.
“I remember the first game last year, we really weren't ready for it," Hawks senior guard Ty Huse explained. "That’s the most important thing I think this year is if we really come out to play it’s going to be a big difference-maker for us.”
However, this year’s matchup won’t be as easy. With the Raptors returning their entire roster, they’ve only built on where they left off last season, sitting at 4-2.
“They've certainly gotten better, and certainly having seniors helps that," Hawks head coach Troy Hostetler smiled. "I still know the juniors and seniors from that class, so I know what they bring to the table and what they’re capable of.”
One of the juniors he’s referring to is Eli Hunter. The 6'1 guard was the leading scoring for Gallatin last season drilling 36 threes.
Inside the paint, the Hawks are preparing for Rylan Schlepp. While leading the Eastern AA in rebounds last year, he also nearly averaged a double-double every game.
"He’s going to be a handful on the boards," Hostetler added. "We need to do a good job of at least staying even on the boards with him.”
But over on the Hawks, the talent isn’t lacking either.
“They have five players that start who all have the green light, and they can knock a three down and can get in a rhythm real quick," Claxton explained.
Ty Huse and Jackson Bayse are just two of the driving forces behind Bozeman’s high-powered offense.
Huse, a 6'3 guard, was the Hawks scoring leader last season and still carries the torch now. Bayse stands at a towering 6’7 but has no problem knocking down the three ball – 34 to be exact last season.
“Like coach was saying, defense wins championships and games," senior forward Rylan Schlepp said. "That’s what it really comes down to is effort and physicality.”
"We know that we have a tough challenge ahead of us," Claxton added. "This is one of the top teams in the state, but we’ll be up for the challenge and we’re going to fight to the end. No question."
Friday's crosstown tips off at 7 p.m. at Gallatin High School.