Scobey celebrates its third-place trophy after defeating Hays-Lodge Pole at the 2017 Class C state basketball tournament. (RICHIE MELBY/MTN Sports)

SCOBEY – Jason Wolfe and his Scobey boys basketball team traveled to Saco for what should have been the most difficult game on the Spartans’ District 3C schedule last weekend.

The North Country Mavericks, the Saco-Whitewater-Hinsdale co-op, sit in second place in the conference standings and have won 12 of 16 games this season. The Spartans cruised to another win – their 16th in as many games – with an easy 69-47 victory. It was Scobey’s 13th win by 20 or more points this season.

“You always like to be tested going into tournaments. Unfortunately, we haven’t been since Week 1,” said Wolfe, a former star Spartans player now manning the bench. “Fairview, I think that was a five-point win in overtime. The rest of the games have all been by similar margins. I’d like to say we’ve had a couple real good tests, but it just hasn’t been the case so far. Saying that, we know that there’s some really good competition across the state. We’re aware of that and we follow the other teams out there. We know that there’s a lot of good teams out there.”

The Spartans figure to be one of those teams, but they likely won’t know for sure until late February when they head to the Eastern C divisional tournament or maybe early March at the state tournament. After last year’s third-place finish at the State C tournament in Bozeman, Scobey is one of four undefeated teams remaining in Class C this season. Melstone, Heart Butte and defending champion Arlee are the others.

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But Scobey’s inclusion on the list wasn’t a guarantee when practice started last November. The Spartans graduated seven seniors off last year’s state-tournament team, including Peyton Nieskens and Preston Baldry, who combined to score 31 points in the consolation final.

CJ Nelson scored 28 in that 74-72 win over Hays-Lodge Pole, though, and, alongside Riley Linder, returned a veteran presence to this year’s Spartans.

“(Nelson and Linder) are our seniors, they’re our leaders,” Wolfe said. “After those guys, we put a lot of young kids on the floor. We play two or three freshmen consistently, some sophomores and juniors mixed in there. We do a lot of up-tempo, pressure defense, and those guys are the ones that really get us going.”

The 5-foot-11 Nelson and 5-10 Linder, who is set to play college football at Dickinson State University, are the cogs to what Scobey tries to accomplish, but Spartans are even more formidable in numbers. Wolfe takes pride in his team’s depth, using a rotation of 10 or 11 players on any given night.

“With the exception of CJ and Riley, who get a lot of minutes, everybody else is pretty even across the board,” Wolfe said. “We’re able to withstand some of the energy loss from the defensive pressure by spreading it amongst 10 or 11 guys.”

That depth and aggressive, up-tempo style has helped Scobey to an average margin of victory of 30 points per game. The Spartans are scoring just less than 68 points per game with most of that damage coming in the first halves of games when they’re building insurmountable leads. Opponents are scoring less than 38 points per game against the Spartans. Only twice has an opponent hit the 50-point mark.

That schedule has included lopsided wins over Class B foes Glasgow and Wolf Point.

“I think in the back of my mind, I thought we could be really competitive, just for the most part because of Riley and CJ and what they bring. They’re just two really good athletes and really intelligent players,” Wolfe said. “We had a strong group of incoming freshmen that have had a lot of success. With that group of freshmen being as athletic and talented as they are, mix that with two really good, experienced seniors and some upperclassmen, I thought we could be good. I just didn’t know how that would compare to the rest of the league.”

Turns out, Scobey compares quite favorably to the rest of District 3C. The Spartans look to close out an undefeated regular season with games against Nashua on Friday and Wolf Point on Saturday.

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