By KEVIN THOMPSON
HOLCOMB — For the first time since its inception four years ago, the Great West Athletic Conference has a new champion.
The Holcomb boys captured the crown with a 66-39 win over Hugoton in a game that was much closer than the final score indicates.
With the win, the Longhorns take the league title with a 9-1 record, and they go into next week's sub-state with a 17-3 overall record and the top seed.
Holcomb looked poised to put the game away early, but didn't until a 26-9 fourth quarter, when they were 8 of 11 from the floor.
The Longhorns started out with a 14-0 run over the first five minutes, and looked as though they would run away with the game.
But they didn't score again until early in the second quarter. After that, they stayed just 10 or 11 points ahead of a struggling Eagles team and led 25-15 at the break.
Hugoton cut the lead to nine with just over two minutes left in the third, the closest they would get as the Holcomb team that has been playing crisply of late finally caught fire again in the final period.
Freshman post Conner VanCleave led Holcomb with 17 points.
Blake Richmeier had 13, Dalton Gottschalk 12 and Heath Tucker 11.
Holcomb finished the night shooting 46 percent from the floor (23 of 50), but it wasn't the typical Longhorn fashion as they also committed 13 turnovers.
"That's not quite the game I wanted to have tonight, but these kids did enough to get by," coach Chad Novack said.
Novack noted they did not do a good enough job bringing the energy his team has been showing lately, and that showed on offense in the second and third quarters.
"But you look at us in the fourth quarter when we ran our offense, and you see what happens," he said. "We just didn't do the things we had been doing the previous seven, eight games."
VanCleave had a great night on both ends of the floor, and Richmeier was solid in a post position.
Gottschalk got all of his points in the second half, and Novack said that was good to see, considering how Hugoton shut him down in the first half.
"He came out in the second half and played big in the post," Novack said.
Hugoton was led by Zack Leininger's 12 points and Yates Sutton's 10.
The Eagles were just 16 of 42 from the floor (38 percent) with no three-pointers.
They were burned by 17 turnovers that led to 19 Holcomb points, 11 of those in the final quarter.
The Longhorns started all three of their seniors on senior recognition night, including Joe Jarnagin and Zeke Silva, both of whom scored.
Trey Sleep missed his second straight game with a shoulder issue, but this game was just precautionary, Novack said.
The 6-foot-4 junior has been averaging about 15 points a game as a force inside.
"You could tell at times out there we're not as fluid when he's not out there," Novack said. "But we had kids step up. He'll be back next week, hopefully full strength."
With sub-state pairings announced later today, Holcomb will host Chaparral, with a tentative time set for Monday following the girls game, around 7 p.m.
Hugoton 6 9 15 9 -- 39
Holcomb 14 11 15 26 -- 66
Hugoton (10-9, 5-5)--Titus 1 0-0 2, Armendariz 0 0-2 0, Sutton 4 2-4 10, Leininger 5 2-5 12, Davis 3 0-0 6, Rodriguez 2 0-0 4, Davis 1 3-4 5. Totals 16-42 7-15 39.
Holcomb (17-3, 9-1)--Gottschalk 4 4-6 12, Tucker 4 3-4 11, Rupp 0 2-2 2, Jarnigan 2 0-0 5, Stegman 0 1-2 1, Richmeier 6 1-2 13, Merz 1 0-1 2, VanCleave 5 6-6 17, Silva 1 0-0 3. Totals 23-50 17-23 66.
3-point field goals--Hugoton 0-6, Holcomb 3-8 (Jarnagin, VanCleave, Silva). Rebounds--Hugoton 16 (Leininger 5), Holcomb 33 (Tucker 8). Turnovers--Hugoton 17, Holcomb 13. Fouled out--none. Total fouls--Hugoton 18, Holcomb 18. Technical fouls--none.