Buffs, Longhorns back for round 2 of Finney County rivalry
By BRETT MARSHALL
It was just a little more than 13 months ago that the boys and girls basketball teams from Garden City and Holcomb High Schools met for the first time during the final day of the 2011 Southwest Classic at Perryman Athletic Complex.
The Garden City Lady Buffs needed a putback shot by Johna McClelland with 13 seconds remaining to hang on for a 57-56 overtime victory over the Lady Longhorns in one of the best games played in southwest Kansas a season ago.
Garden City's boys, meanwhile, methodically produced a 41-28 victory over then first-year coach Chad Novack's squad in a game that neither team took care of the ball and Holcomb suffered through an ice cold night of shooting.
Tuesday night, this time at the New Garden on the GCHS campus, the Finney County schools, with just seven miles separating them, will meet for Round 2 of what has quickly become one of the best rivalries in the area. The girls' game tips off at 6 p.m. with the boys game to follow at approximately 7:30 p.m.
"These kids have grown up together and know each other," said GCHS boys coach Jacy Holloway. "They've played summer ball with and against each other so it makes for a good healthy competition."
Those games in early December of 2011 were right at the outset of the season and this year's games comes just past the mid-point where all four teams come in with strong records and all have been ranked at one time or another during the season — Garden City's boys (10-4) now No. 8 in Class 6A and the Lady Buffs (11-3) No. 7 as of the latest (Jan. 21) rankings by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. The Lady Longhorns, meanwhile the Lady Longhorns (11-2) are ranked No. 2 in Class 3A despite a pair of losses at the tough Hillsboro Trojan Classic (losing to 4A ranked Hesston and to 3A power Riley County). The Holcomb boys are 10-3 and in early January were ranked as high as No. 4 in Class 3A before a pair of loss to No. 1 Scott City and then an upset by Ulysses dropped them from the KBCA poll.
But Novack saw his team, beset by injuries at the start of the year, regroup and capture the championship of the boys side of the Hillsboro Classic a week ago, before handing Hugoton a 52-33 loss on Friday. Garden's boys, meanwhile, were idle on Friday following Tuesay's 55-41 road win at Ulysses.
They had just come off a 2-1 performance to place third at the Valley Center January Jam. The Lady Buffs are coming off a tough showing in the Newton Invitational, where they went 1-2.
So, it sets up to be a big night in Garden City when the two quickly-made rivals return to the court.
"I think both teams play the same type of defense, so I would be surprised that it would be a high-scoring game," Holloway said.
He said that Holcomb's Tyler LaSalle and the inside play of Shane Bennett and Max Ramsey have propelled the Longhorns to a strong season.
"That's how you build teams," Holloway said. "Get a really good point guard, and strong post play, and you get locked into being a pretty good team."
Novack, meanwhile, now midway through his second season, has his system firmly in place.
"I definitely think it's going to be a good game," Novack said. "Garden City's very athletic and they're playing well. On the flip side, I think we've been playing well, too. It makes for an exciting game."
On the girls side, new Holcomb coach Kenton Tennal has produced an up-tempo, 3-point shooting team that takes advantage of its athleticism to compensate for its lack of height. Junior Haley Heydman is the tallest player at 5-9 while Garden City counters with the 6-2 McClelland and 5-11 Jaymie Bernbeck.
"I'm certainly new to this, but it didn't take long to figure out how important the game is when we looked at the schedule and the girls talked about how big it was last year," Tennal said.
Seniors Katie Pfeifer, Karissa Pena, Kyshia Prieto are three- and four-year starters. Pfeifer, a 5-4 sharpshooter from behind the arc, scored 20 points in that narrow loss a year ago.
"It's a lot like last year in that we have different styles of play," GCHS coach David Upton said. "They really look to get it down and shoot the threes."
Much like the Longhorns, the Lady Buffs have key players returning from a year ago in McClelland, Tempel and Bernbeck, just a sophomore.
"I think it will be a good game, certainly that's what we had last year," Upton said. "I think most people would expect that us being the bigger school would have the advantage, but I've been around basketball long enough to know that all you need is a couple of really good players and small schools can compete with the bigger schools. Holcomb certainly is that kind of team."
Tennal said that he became familiar with Garden's players when the teams met up last summer at the Garden City Community College camp.
"Everybody knows each other really well," Tennal said. "You've got to do a good job of stopping Tempel. She goes to the rack and attacks the basket and then she hits her free throws. For us, we've got to play bigger than we are and not give up points in the paint. We're excited to see how we match up and it's another step along the way for our season to see where we're at."
The fact that all four teams have been ranked only adds to the storyline for Tuesday's twinbill.
"I certainly don't have any issue with us playing each other," Holloway said. "I think it's great for the fans. Many times, we both play home games on the same night and so the crowds get split. Tuesday, everybody gets to be in the same place and I think it makes for a great atmosphere."
Upton missed last year's game due to a family medical emergency in Oklahoma and his wife, Katie, guided the Lady Buffs. But he has seen the film, talked to people who were there, and knows what the atmosphere was like.
"Easily the best crowd of the year," Upton said. "I think the place will be packed for both teams and that's what the kids really enjoy."