By BRETT MARSHALL
The last time the Wichita County Indians played in a championship game of the Hi-Plains League tournament, all of the current team members had not yet been born.
That was 1989, one year before Leoti won the Class 3A state championship in 1990.
That all changed Friday night at the Perryman Athletic Complex when second-year coach Matt Crist watched his upstart team take down perennial HPL power Holcomb, 52-50, in one semifinal contest.
It sets up a matchup for tonight at 7:45 p.m. against top-seeded Southwestern Heights, a 52-39 winner over Sublette in the other semifinal. The Indians (8-3) came in as the second seed and have not disappointed their coach.
"This, mentally, is a big hurdle that we had to cross at some point," Crist said. "They've beat up on us for years, so this one feels really good. I hope that it gives us the confidence to move forward and not just be satisfied with what we've done so far."
This was a game of "what ifs" and there were plenty of them.
What if Mitchell Gaede's desperation 3-pointer just at the buzzer had gone in rather than skipped over the back of the rim as time expired?
What if the Longhorns had shot better from the free throw line rather than 9-of-17?
What if Holcomb coach Scott Stegman could have gotten the official's attention near the end to call a timeout, but couldn't?
What if Wichita County's 6-7 center Trae Bremer had not gotten a lob pass from Steven Harkness and used his left hand for a reverse layup to score what proved to be the winning points with eight seconds left?
What if the Indians' Watson McKinney had not caught fire to pour in 16 first-half points, including 4-of-4 from 3-point range? And then didn't score in the second half.
Those were the big ones in a game that saw a Longhorn team fight back from a 10-point deficit to start the final quarter.
"We fought hard and I couldn't be more proud of the way the kids played with heart," Stegman said. "We were hoping to get the timeout and run a high screen and roll, but they just didn't hear, it was so noisy in there."
McKinney, who had a big smile on his face coming out of the locker room afterward, said this win erased a lot of bad memories about Holcomb.
"It's the first time we've beaten them in anything — summer ball, football, anything," McKinney said. "I was pretty hot in that first half and I just have to credit my teammates for getting me the ball. Anytime you've got a player like Trae, it opens things up for everybody else and I had a lot of good looks."
Joining McKinney in double figures for Wichita County was Gabe Martinez with 11, seven of those coming in the second half. Bremer managed just seven points but pulled down a team-high eight rebounds as the teams battled to a 27-27 standoff on the boards.
For the Longhorns (7-4), Logan Singhisen led the way with 15 points and had eight rebounds, Mitchell Gaede and Jacob VanCampen each added 10.
"You couldn't ask more of a player, I'm so proud of him," Stegman said of VanCampen. "He was hurting and just came in and gave us so much of a lift."
Wichita County connected on 20-of-40 field goals for 50 percent, while Holcomb made 20-of-48 for 41 percent. The Longhorns were just 1-of-8 from behind the arc.
The Longhorns will face Sublette in the 4:15 p.m. third place game today at Perryman.
Wichita County 52, Holcomb 50
WICHITA CO. (8-3) — Mehl 1-3 0-0 2, McKinney 6-12 0-0 16, Harkness 3-6 2-3 8, Fletcher 2-3 0-0 4, Martinez 4-7 3-4 11, Weilert 2-3 0-0 4, Bremer 2-6 2-4 7. Totals 20-40 7-11 52.
HOLCOMB (7-4) — Singhisen 7-15 1-3 15, Merz 3-4 0-0 6, Robinson 1-2 0-0 2, M. Gaede 3-14 3-4 10, Pfeifer 0-0 0-2 0, N. Gaede 1-2 0-2 2, Walck 2-4 1-1 5, VanCampen 3-6 4-6 10. Totals 20-48 9-16 50.
Wichita Co. 14 13 16 9 -- 52
Holcomb 8 10 15 17 -- 50
3-point goals — Wichita County 5-9 (Mehl 0-1, McKinney 4-6, Martinez 0-1, Bremer 1-1), Holcomb 1-8 (Merz 0-1 M. Gaede 0-6, Walck 0-1). Rebounds — Wichita County 27 (Bremer 8), Holcomb 27 (VanCampen 9). Turnovers — Wichita County 15, Holcomb 9. Fouls — Wichita County 14, Holcomb 13. Fouled out — none.