By KEVIN THOMPSON
The Holcomb Longhorns found the return trip to the Hillsboro Invitational on Thursday worth the drive, as they held off the Hesston Swathers, 41-36 in the semifinals.
Holcomb jumped out to a 14-4 lead at the end of the first quarter and took an 18-14 lead into halftime.
After coming out flat in two games last week, the Longhorns changed that as they hit 6-of-13 shots from the field to take a 30-22 lead into the final quarter.
Tyler LaSalle led Holcomb with 13 points, while Aaron Hernandez added nine.
For coach Chad Novack, the win was a sign that his Longhorns have regained their confidence.
"We knew Hesston was a pretty good ball club, but our boys did a very good job of playing sound, fundamental defense," he said.
The early strike was a key to the win, he said, as Holcomb started the game strongly.
"We played extremely well in that first quarter. We executed the offense well with some good shots, and defensively we played really well as a team," Novack said.
A solid half-court defense in that quarter held the Swathers to just 2-of-10 shooting while hitting 6-of-12 themselves.
The second quarter wasn't as solid, he said, as his team had too many "empty possessions" where they went 0-for-7 and turned the ball over a few times.
But it was his team's effort to start the second half that really impressed him, Novack said, as they hit a couple layups in a row and found their confidence.
"The kids did a great job of being patient on the offensive end and being solid defensively.
Holcomb outrebounded Hesston 34-20, the boards spread over eight players.
"That was huge on our part. They had a couple 6-6 guys and a couple 6-2 kids, so I thought our kids did extremely, extremely well on the boards tonight," Novack said.
Add in the balanced scoring and controlling the game, and this game was a total team effort, Novack said.
"I thought our kids played with a lot of heart and energy tonight," he said.
After two losses last week, the Longhorns seem refocused, Novack said, ready to get back on track, and making the finals is a good payoff.
Holcomb awaits the winner of today's matchup between Wamego (the third-ranked team in 4A) and Republic County (No. 4 in 2A).
"I've seeen film on both," Novack said. "Either way, we're going to have to be ready to go."
Holcomb 14 4 12 11 -- 41
Hesston 4 10 8 14 -- 36
Holcomb (41) — Bennett 1 2-2 4, Richmeier 3 0-0 6, Gilbert 2 0-0 4, Cox 0 5-6 5, Hernandez 3 2-4 9, LaSalle 5 2-3 13, Total 14 11-15 41.
Hesston (36) — Gehrer 1 1-1 3, Raleigh 4 2-2 12, McCartney 3 0-0 7, Smith 1 3-3 5, 3 0-0 6, McKinney 1 1-2 3, Total 13 7-8 36.
3-point goals — Holcomb 2 (Hernandez 1, LaSalle 1) Hesston 3 (Raleigh 3, McCartney 1).