After losing in sub-state championship last three seasons, Cimarron girls break through with 64-48 win over Holcomb.
By KEVIN THOMPSON
CIMARRON — Due, or snakebit?
That was the question the Lady Jays had to ask themselves heading into Saturday night's Class 3A sub-state final.
For the past three sub-states, Cimarron has fallen in the title game, the past two to Holcomb.
Those two teams matched up again Saturday evening, this time with a different result — finally.
The third-seeded Lady Bluejays used a dominating third quarter to pull away from top-seeded Holcomb for a 64-48 win and their first trip to state since 2008.
The Jays scored in an unconventional manner, collecting 34 of their points from the free-throw line to Holcomb's nine.
Ashtynn Burns converted 18 of her 20 attempts and added a 3-ball for 21 points, while Morgan Ediger made 7 of 8 and finished with 22 points to pace the Jays.
For the senior Burns, who has been on varsity the past four years, it was a moment of jubilation after three previous title games of watching the opponents hoist the championship trophy.
"It's overwhelming. This is the greatest feeling ever," Burns said. "I'm so glad I finally get to experience state."
The key to setting the tone, she said, was focusing on rebounding. Being smaller than Holcomb, Cimarron would have to defend well, which meant pursuing any loose balls and missed shots.
"We did a really good job of attacking the boards," Burns said. "We just said we needed to play with integrity, come out and work hard, and play as a team."
That formula worked as the Jays never looked nervous, even after Holcomb tied the game in the second quarter. In the end, though, attrition caught up with the Longhorns.
"We knew that if we hung around and hung around, we'd wear them down eventually," Ediger said. "We know we can play at our pace and the way we want to play for four quarters."
Ediger said the offensive set was to spread out, draw Holcomb out and create openings in the lane, and exploit what the Longhorns gave them.
"We can shoot from the outside, but our team passes the ball so well and we know how to lead each other to the basket and get each other open, so it works for us," she said.
Their drives led to fouls, she added, and it led to the large number of free throws, something they practice all the time.
Cimarron took charge early on a pair of 3s from Hailee Hoskinson and Ediger, then scored the next 10 points from the foul line in a streak that extended well into the second quarter.
Holcomb was 0 for 8 from the floor before Haley Heydman hit a trey from the top of the arc at the 2:08 mark, and Taylor Deniston hit near the buzzer to cut Cimarron's lead to 12-6 at the break.
The Longhorns finally got their offense going in the second period behind Deniston's 10 points. Holcomb even came back to take the lead, 24-23, on a pair of Kylee Amos free throws with 1:13 left, helping the Longhorns overcome two seven-point deficits in the quarter.
Burns hit two free throws with just over a minute to play to put the Jays up by one at the break.
Ediger tore up the third period, scoring 12 points, including a pair of 3s. Holcomb got its final tie on the second play of the period with Amos' trey to knotting the score at 28 before the Ediger-led 9-0 run gave the Jays a 15-point lead.
Cimarron spread the floor in the fourth, making just one field goal in the quarter but benefiting from the charity line, shooting 21 free throws and netting 17.
Cimarron schedules tougher opponents for just this opportunity, Ediger said. Playing the tough games makes the Jays tough for the postseason, and it paid off.
"This is awesome," she said. "We'll be running off of adrenaline (at state). We'll be pumped up and ready to go."
Four years ago, Cimarron lost by one on a buzzer-beater to Meade. The last two years, they've lost to Holcomb. The fourth time was a charm, coach David Ediger said.
"It's a relief for the girls more than anything," he said.
Ediger liked how his team seemed to control most aspects of the game.
"We talked about limiting our mistakes, our breakdowns, and we just played really well," he said. "I'm just really happy with our girls' effort."
The student section, called "The Flock," really boosted the Jays, especially Saturday in a packed gym, Ediger said.
"A lot of credit really goes to the people behind our girls," he said.
On the other side, Cimarron's success was felt deeply by a Longhorn team hoping for its third-straight trip to state.
During that final stretch, four of Holcomb's five starters fouled out, seeing their season come to an unhappy end.
But coach Kenton Tennal said his team found a way to stay in the game, especially with the number of whistles against them.
Deniston finished with a team-high 16 points.
"We did our best to make it a fun game to watch as much as we could," he said. "There was a lot of fight and a lot of battle."
Having to sit players took his team out of its rhythm, Tennal said, but the five on the floor were always able to stay competitive.
Heydman (nine points) and Amos (14) played their last game as Longhorns, and Tennal said it was hard to go out like that.
"They had a helluva year and really, really good careers," he said. "It's just tough to get into that kind of foul trouble. I'm really proud of them, though. Really proud."
Finally returning to state is a good feeling, coach Ediger said, but preparing for it will be just like everything else.
"When you get to state, you're not going to play a bad team," he said. "Our sub-state really helped us. We played two of the best teams in the state the past two days (Cheney on Friday). This was a tough sub-state."
Cimarron 12 14 19 14 -- 48
Holcomb 6 19 9 19 -- 64
Cimarron (19-2)--Dupree 0 7-10 7, Burns 1 18-20 21, Blattner 1 0-0 3, Hoskinson 3 1-1 8, Ediger 6 7-8 22, K. Bailon 1 1-4 3. Totals 12-33 34-43.
Holcomb (20-2)--Jarnagin 3 1-3 7, Heydman 2 4-7 9, Deniston 6 2-3 16, Amos 4 2-2 14, Chappel 1 0-0 3. Totals 16-37 9-15 48.
3-point goals--Cimarron 6-15 (Burns, Blattner, Hoskinson, Ediger 3), Holcomb 7-20 (Heydman, Deniston 2, Amos 3, Chappel). Rebounds--Cimarron 27 (Ediger 7, Hoskinson 10), Holcomb 22 (Jarnagin 6, Amos 7). Turnovers--Cimarron 5, Holcomb 14. Fouled out--Cimarron (Dupree), Holcomb (Jarnagin, Heydman, Deniston, Amos). Total fouls--Cimarron 18, Holcomb 26. Technical fouls--none.