By BRETT MARSHALL
HOLCOMB — For much of the 2013-14 basketball season, the Garden City Buffaloes' boys team has prided itself on playing stingy defense to help offset a sometimes roller-coaster offense.
And for much of the same season, the Holcomb Longhorns have prided themselves on being an offensive juggernaut, averaging more than 60 points a game as opposed to just 48 for the Buffs.
So when the two Finney County schools met here on Saturday night in the third annual ArkRiver Rivalry, it was a matter of who got the better end of their respective strengths.
And the tale was told in the first quarter, when in a matter of eight minutes, the Longhorns had stuck the Buffs squarely in a hole with a 26-12 explosion that left Garden staggered and playing catch up all night.
The Buffs never could rally to cut the deficit to less than 11 points, and it was the same deficit that resulted in a 66-55 victory by the Longhorns.
There may have been better quarters of basketball this season, but Holcomb coach Chad Novack would be hard-pressed to remember when.
And there may have been worse quarters for Garden City, but coach Jacy Holloway would find it difficult to recall a quarter when his team had so many defensive lapses and poor ball handling.
In that eight-minute stretch, Holcomb's Dalton Gottschalk looked like Superman, scoring 14 of his game-high 18 points to push the Longhorns into the commanding position it held throughout.
"We executed our offense, and the kids did a great job of limiting Garden to one shot," Novack said. "Then, we did a great job of getting out in transition."
And nobody was doing that better than Gottschalk, a 6-3 junior forward.
He opened the game with a 3-point bomb, and closed the quarter with two steals and easy transition layups that sent the home crowd into a frenzy when the buzzer sounded.
"It was a big win because there's kind of a rivalry we have going against them," Gottschalk said. "We've been working hard for this. We've been working hard, especially the little things. It showed on the court tonight."
At the same time, it brought an end to the second straight quarter where the Buffs were abysmal on the defensive end. They had given up 21 points to Great Bend on Friday in a 48-47 road loss to the Panthers before being hit by the Holcomb attack on Saturday.
"Our defense was the issue and those are things we've talked about," a disappointed Holloway said afterward. "We're not guarding off the dribble, and we're going to have to rotate better if we want to improve. We were very unfocused out there. We let Holcomb catch the ball in the worst position possible to give them good looks at scoring inside."
Holloway also bemoaned the fact that the Buffs turned the ball over eight times in eight minutes.
"We were about as bad as you'd want to be, and Holcomb was about as good as you'd want to be," Holloway said.
From there, the teams played on near-even terms, with the Buffs gaining a slight edge over the final three quarters, outscoring the Longhorns 43-40. Holcomb owned leads of 37-25 and 53-40 at the second and third quarter stops.
Holcomb's biggest lead came on five different occasions in the second and third periods, the last at 48-30 with 5:16 still to play.
"We had some lapses, too, in the second quarter and in the fourth quarter," Novack said. "Those are just mental breakdowns and things we talk about all the time with the kids. We'll take a look at those and try to fine-tune them."
Gottschalk, perhaps the unsung hero for the Longhorns, shined brightly as both Heath Tucker and Trey Sleep, the team's two leading scorers, added support with 10 and 17 points, respectively.
But it was Gottschalk, who also grabbed 10 rebounds, that had Novack singing praises.
"Dalton's one of those kids who makes other players better," Novack said. "He caused some turnovers that led to easy baskets."
Gottschalk said he just tried to take his coach's instructions to heart for the big game.
"I had open shots and hit them," Gottschalk said. "I got a couple steals on the break. I just let the game come to me. We feel good. We just need to win out so we can get the one seed in sub-state."
Garden City threatened early in the fourth, drawing to within 11 at 55-44 with 6:56 remaining, but any further comeback hopes were quickly dashed as Tucker drilled a deadly three from the top of the key a minute later. Then, the Buffs couldn't manage the free throw line, where they were a woeful 3 of 8 in the fourth period.
Gottschalk's 10 boards, giving him a double-double, helped the Longhorns to a dominating effort in that category, owning a 39-23 bulge over the Buffs, who got 11 rebounds from Caleb Tramp to go along with 10 points for his second straight double-double.
After the first quarter debacle, the Buffs turned the ball over only five more times, and their 55 points eclipsed their season average by seven points.
"Other than the first quarter, I thought we competed well and did some good things," Holloway said. "But we just couldn't get over the hump and get it to single digits. Holcomb's a very talented team, and this game will show us things we need to get better at."
Gottschalk's performance overshadowed Garden City's Mitchell Hernandez, who matched the Longhorn forward with 18 points, four of those buckets coming from 3-point range.
"I thought Mitchell played his best game of the season," Holloway said. "He got good looks because he came off ball screens hard, and that's what you do to get good looks. He understands those things, and he also played within himself defensively."
Tramp and Hunter Delgado added 10 points apiece to the Buffs' attack.
What also pleased Novack was his team's ability to match, and perhaps exceed, Garden's athleticism.
"As far as Garden City goes, they're very good, very athletic," Novack said. "I thought we matched their physicality. That was good to see."
Holcomb finished the game with solid shooting percentages, hitting 24 of 49 field goals (48.9 percent) compared to Garden's 38.4 percent (20 of 52). Behind the arc, the Longhorns were 6 of 13 (46.1 percent) and Garden was 7 of 19 (36.8 percent).
At the free throw line, Holcomb was 12 of 18 (66.7 percent) while Garden continued its struggles at the stripe, hitting just 7 of 16 (43.7 percent).
Both teams get little recovery time, with Tuesday night home games on the slate.
The Longhorns (now 14-3 overall) host Scott City in an important Great West Activities Conference matchup that will likely determine the GWAC title. That game will be at approximately 8 o'clock. The Buffs, meanwhile, fall to 10-7 overall and play host to rival Dodge City in a 7:30 p.m. battle at The Garden.
Garden City 12 13 15 15 — 55
Holcomb 26 11 16 13 — 66
Garden City (10-7) — Tramp 5-13 0-0 10, Delgado 2-10 4-4 10, Olivas 0-0 0-0 0, Koster 3-7 1-2 8, Hernandez 7-14 0-0 18, Nanninga 3-6 1-6 7, Rodriguez 0-1 0-2 0, Parr 0-0 0-0 0, Love 0-0 0-0 0, Rincones 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 20-52 7-16 55.
Holcomb (13-3) — Gottschalk 7-10 3-4 18, Tucker 4-11 0-0 10, Sleep 6-10 5-9 17, Rupp 2-2 2-2 7, Richmeier 3-8 2-3 8, Merz 2-5 0-0 6, VanCleave 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 24-49 12-18 66.
3-point goals--Garden City 7-19 (Delgado 2-7, Koster 1-2, Hernandez 4-9, Rincones 0-1), Holcomb 6-13 (Gottschalk 1-2, Tucker 2-4, Rupp 1-1, Richmeier 0-1, Merz 2-2). Rebounds--Garden City 23 (Tramp 11), Holcomb 39 (Gottschalk 10). Turnovers--Garden City 13, Holcomb 19. Fouls--Garden City 14, Holcomb 16. Fouled out--Holcomb (Tucker).