By KEVIN THOMPSON
HOLCOMB--In just its third year, the ArkRiver Rivalry has produced close and quality games for the girls, with Garden City winning the first two meetings.
Saturday, it was Holcomb's turn as the No. 5-ranked team in Class 3A came back in the second half to eke out a 51-48 victory over the Lady Buffs on the Lady Longhorns' court.
It took a big effort for the smaller 'Horns in the second half, something they accomplished by stepping up the defense, which then ignited their offense.
Down four at intermission, 23-19, Holcomb went ahead as Kylee Amos, Molly Harrington and Haley Heydman hit consecutive threes to put the Horns up 34-29 with 28 seconds left in the third before Taryn Tempel countered with her own trey, with Holcomb holding a 34-32 lead at the break.
The fourth quarter featured five lead changes. Garden City got its last lead at 1:11 when Jaymie Bernbeck hit a pair of free throws after Tempel stole an inbounds pass following a timeout.
On the ensuing play, Emalee Ratliff hit Heydman, who scored on a basket and bonus free throw with 57 seconds left for a 48-46 lead.
After the Buffs called their final timeout, Bernbeck got called for a travel on what could have gone as a jump ball when Heydman blocked her jump shot attempt.
On Holcomb's next possession, Heydman missed the front end of a bonus with 27 seconds remaining, and Tempel tied the game with 18 seconds left on a pair of free throws of her own.
On Holcomb's final possession, Ratliff hit Jarnagin low. Her shot missed, but Taylor Deniston was right there on the weak side to put back the rebound, get fouled, and make a free throw with five seconds left.
Tempel missed a desperation three at the buzzer, and the Longhorns retained their perfect record at home over the past two seasons.
"It feels really good. This is a big accomplishment for a team like us," Deniston said. "We've lost to them the last two years in really close games. Another close game with us winning really means a lot."
The junior, who finished with 13 points, said once they figured out how much Garden City was trying to shut down the inside with their height, it was time for Holcomb to keep driving but also kick the ball back outside and launch the threes. They hit five of their 10 attempts in the second half.
Heydman, who led all scorers with 25 points, said they also decided to crank up the defense in the second half.
"It was always that back-and forth, we-score they-score kind of game," she said. "We knew we had to get back on defense. It was the laziness factor that first half we had to fight."
Holcomb coach Kenton Tennal was proud of his team's overall effort, even in the first half.
"It was there 100 percent of the time in the second half," he said. "If it's there the entire game, that's when you can really put it together. But we did it that second half and that made the difference. I thought we were awesome on defense in the second half."
The Longhorns did a good job keeping the game close even with the Buffs controlling the tempo, he said, but once Holcomb got on track with its outside game late in the third quarter, that's when he felt confident in the momentum shift.
"Effort-wise, especially that second half, that's what we needed," Tennal said. "They're bigger than us, obviously. But we had so many clutch plays there at the end."
None was bigger than Deniston's final put-back, he said.
"She's athletic. She wants the ball more than anyone," he said.
Deniston played much of the second half of the game with three personal fouls. At one point, she was supposed to come out for Harrington, but Heydman did instead on a miscommunication. It turned out to be a good move to keep the junior guard in because she stayed in the rest of the game, giving her team their regular ballhandler down the stretch.
"It turned out smart to keep her in there to keep the flow going," Tennal said. "We couldn't afford to go down by too many points."
Holcomb felt lucky to be down just 23-19 at halftime, considering how well Garden City had shut down the Longhorn's outside game.
Garden City went on an 8-2 run in the first quarter over a six-minute span before Holcomb countered with a 7-3 run in its next three possessions to tie the game at 11.
The 'Horns took a brief 17-16 lead midway in the second quarter before the Buffs closed on a 6-2 run.
Heydman had 12 of Holcomb's first-half points while her teammates had just three field goals.
Garden City, meanwhile, had the lead but was just 8 of 29 on field goals.
Jacksenie Tornero got her game back on track, leading the Buffs with eight in the first half, including a pair of threes, and she had a number of assists, including one to Breece Dreiling for a layup at the buzzer to give Garden City the four-point lead at halftime that didn't hold up long afterwards.
Bernbeck led Garden City with 12 points, including eight in the second half. Tornero had 11 with just three free throws after her big first half.
Tionnia McKee had 10.
Garden City coach David Upton said he felt this was one of his team's best efforts all season.
"Our kids played hard," he said. "If we play that way every night-in and night-out, we'll win a lot of games down the stretch."
Defensively, the Buffs did what they needed to at the start.
"We did a great job defending their threes in the first half," Upton said. "In the second half, they made some adjustments that worked for them."
He felt that his team towards the end sped up the tempo just a bit and didn't slow down enough to run what they wanted.
"But I thought our girls, defensively, played about as good a game as a coach could ask for," he added. "They've got a lot of weapons, and except for Heydman, I thought we did a good job on the others."
Upton said the changes Tennal made in the second half to protect Deniston after she picked up her third foul were crucial.
Playing a team of Holcomb's caliber, along with the other teams the Buffs have faced thus far, will help them prepare for sub-state, he said.
Tennal said this win was huge. Coupled with Cimarron's loss on Saturday to Pratt (62-49), the Longhorns now hold the key to the first-seed in sub-state, as long as they win out.
"It's also a huge confidence booster," he added. "The girls played huge. If we could just box out better and eliminate those second-chance points, we'd be even better."
Garden City 11 12 9 16 -- 48
Holcomb 11 8 15 17 -- 51
Garden City (10-7) — Tornero 3-10 3-4 1, Tempel 3-12 2-2 9, McKee 3-5 3-4 10, Dreiling 2-8 2-4 6, Bernbeck 5-14 2-2 12. Totals 16-50 12-16 48.
Holcomb (15-2) — Ratliff 0-4 0-0 0, Jarnagin 1-5 0-0 2, Heydman 8-16 7-8 25, Deniston 5-10 1-2 12, Amos 3-3 1-1 9, Harrington 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 18-39 9-11 51.
3-point field goals--Garden City 4-11 (Tornero 2-4, Tempel 1-5, McKee 1-1, Bernbeck 0-1); Holcomb 6-18 (Heydman 2-7, Deniston 1-3, Amos 2-2, Harrington 1-1). Rebounds--Garden City 33 (Dreiling 9), Holcomb 24 (Jarnagin 8). Turnovers--Garden City 9, Holcomb 13. Fouled out--none. Total fouls--Garden City 15, Holcomb 16. Technical fouls--none.