By BRETT MARSHALL
HOLCOMB — The Holcomb Lady Longhorns had enjoyed a Cinderella 2009-2010 season by going 16-4, finishing second in the Hi-Plains League behind powerhouse Southwestern Heights and capturing the prestigious Scott City Invitational back in December to set the stage for their success.
All of that, however, crashed with the carriage ride to what they had hoped was the Class 3A sub-state dance in Lakin later this week when Goodland's Cowgirls (11-10) pulled off a 54-51 upset of the third-seeded Longhorns in the quarterfinals Tuesday night.
The glass slipper fell off early in the game and the Lady Longhorns kept trying to get it back on all the way to the very end.
"It was a physical, up and down the floor type of game," Holcomb coach Kelley Snodgrass said. "It just didn't appear that we had our legs under us in the game. We couldn't buy anything."
Snodgrass' assessment of not being able to buy anything (as in baskets) was certainly a key factor in this setback.
The Lady Longhorns were as cold as the North Pole in mid-winter as they made just 18-of-58 field goals (31 percent) and could manage only 9-of-21 free throws (42.8 percent). Considering that the Longhorns had been hitting over 65 percent as a team from the charity stripe and over 40 percent from the field, it wasn't difficult to see where this one slipped away.
"We've harped on free throws all year and we've done a good job of shooting them," Snodgrass said. "But you get in a high-pressure situation and it's physical and things begin to happen that haven't happened to you all season."
The Longhorns battled their way back into the game after trailing by as many as 11 late in the third period before making their initial rally by going on an 11-3 run over the final 2:22 of the quarter to trim the deficit to 41-38.
In the opening two minutes of the fourth period, Goodland went back on top 44-38. Baskets by Heidi Boyles, Karissa Pena and another by Boyles pulled the Longhorns into a tie at 44 with 5:11 to go and Mallory Komlofske's second free throw attempt put them ahead 45-44 at the 4:07 mark. It was only the second time they had held the lead in the game.
The free throw from Komlofske, though, was the last point the Longhorns scored until 18 seconds remained and freshman Katie Pfeifer drained a 3-pointer to pull them within two. Goodland's Ashley Archer made 1-of-2 free throws with 16 seconds to go and then Breanna Gottschalk nailed two charity shots with 10.9 seconds on the clock to make it a one-point game.
On the ensuing inbound pass, Goodland freshman Paige Phillips was fouled and in the exchange with the Holcomb defender, swung her arms wildly and was whistled for a technical foul.
Phillips, though, was undaunted and went down and calmly sank her two free throws for a 53-51 lead with 9.8 seconds left. Pfeifer shot the Holcomb free throws on the technical and made 1-of-2 and then the Longhorns got the ball where Gottschalk drove to the basket, was fouled with 4.3 seconds and had two charity attempts. The usually reliable Gottschalk missed both and then Archer sealed the game with one free throw and just three seconds remaining.
"She just got overly excited and didn't realize what she had done," Goodland coach Andy Schoepner said of Phillips. "To go down there and make those free throws was really big. She's just had to come in and play a lot in the past couple of weeks after we lost one of our top players to a torn ACL."
The Longhorns had quickly fallen behind at the game's outset and were down 16-7 after one quarter thanks in part to Goodland's outstanding junior point guard, Jade Herl. She scored eight of her game-high 23 points to get the Cowgirls off to their strong start.
"She's one of the best around this area and she certainly did what we've come to expect from her," Schoepner said. "She has stepped up for us in a big way in many games and this was perhaps the biggest."
It was no surprise that Herl did the major damage to the Longhorns. She has been averaging nearly 18 points a game.
"We were aware of her, but she shot the lights out early," Snodgrass said of Herl. "We tried to fight back and I'll never fault our effort. We just couldn't throw it (basketball) in the ocean tonight if it right there. I'm proud of what we've accomplished this season and we have almost everyone back."
Goodland 54, Holcomb 51
GOODLAND (11-10) — Studor 0-0 0-0 0, Archer 2-7 7-10, Hinger 2-4 2-2 6, Herl 7-15 5-9 23, Bateman 2-7 1-2 5, Phillips 3-4 2-2 8. Totals 16-37 17-25 54.
HOLCOMB (16-5) — Pfeifer 1-6 1-2 4, Lohfink 0-0 0-0 0, Baier 1-1 0-0 2, Asmus 0-0 0-0 0, Gottschalk 5-19 6-10 19, Komlofske 1-8 2-6 4, Boyles 6-12 0-0 14, Pena 3-4 0-1 6, Stegman 1-8 0-2 2. Totals 18-58 9-21 51.
Goodland 16 7 18 13 -- 54
Holcomb 7 13 18 13 -- 51
3-point goals — Goodland 5-13 (Archer 1-4, Herl 4-9), Holcomb 6-21 (Pfeifer 1-5, Gottschalk 3-11, Boyles 2-4, Stegman 0-1). Rebounds — Goodland 30 (Hinger 9), Holcomb 40 (Komlofske 12). Turnovers — Goodland 16, Holcomb 10. Fouls — Goodland 13, Holcomb 15. Fouled out — None. Technical fouls — Goodland (Phillips).