By KEVIN THOMPSON
HOLCOMB — The Holcomb boys basketball team had an easy win in Thursday night's opening round game of the Clarion Inn Southwest Classic.
Friday was a totally different story.
Down by nine after the third quarter, the Longhorns rallied to defeat Wichita Trinity 66-61 in a battle of two active and athletic teams.
The Knights, who were in control for so much of the game, looked like a completely different team in the final period, scoring just twice.
By contrast, Holcomb scored on 11 possessions, committed only one turnover, and grabbed 10 boards for the rally win.
A lot of things had to happen in the final period for Holcomb to get the win.
Three times in the fourth, Holcomb put back offensive boards for scores.
Down by three, Shane Bennett saved a ball from going out of bounds, and on the same possession, with 1:47 left, Calen Rupp hit Blake Richmeier to cut the deficit to one, 61-60.
A Knight foul after a turnover put Tyler LaSalle at the free throw line, and the senior swished both to give Holcomb its first lead since 14-13 in the first period.
He hit another with 34 seconds remaining.
Shane Bennet was fouled on a defensive rebound and sank a free throw. Holcomb was up by three with 19 seconds left.
LaSalle was fouled on another defensive rebound off a Ryan Miller 3-point attempt that would have tied the game, and this time he hit both to complete the 18-4 fourth quarter and seal the win.
"Our kids definitely found a way and dug deep to really play their butts off that fourth quarter," coach Chad Novack said. "That showed a lot of character on their part."
The team motto this season is "Championship character," and Novack said that was evident Friday.
Trinity provided a number of mismatches for Holcomb, he said, because they run more of a five-guard offense that can shoot and drive from anywhere, especially in the first half, evidenced by their seven 3-pointers.
But his team did a better job shutting them down in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, where the Knights were just 2-of-6 from the floor.
"The kids took it upon themselves and said 'we're not losing this one,' and they did that. They fought and worked together and did a great job," he said.
LaSalle, who finished with 13 points, picked up his fourth foul with 1:15 left in the third and sat — but not for long.
He played the entire fourth quarter, and was essential to leading the comeback, Novack said.
"He's one we've got to have on the floor. He showed a lot of guts out there, playing with four fouls and still being aggressive and running the show for us," he said.
Critical play came from the inside trio of Aaron Hernandez (12 points), Shane Bennett (nine rebounds) and Max Ramsey, who had 22 points and 10 boards.
"They had a heck of a game tonight," Novack said. "We told them before the game we had a size advantage. They controlled the rebounds and established themselves down low really well."
The pieces fell into place, he said, but that's because the coaches tell them to never give up and play to the final buzzer as hard as they can. Good things will come from that kind of effort. This proved it.
Holcomb scored just seven points in the third quarter, thanks in part to seven turnovers.
They rectified that in the fourth quarter, committing just one.
They also out-rebounded the Knights 36-18.
LaSalle didn't even realize his team had outscored Trinity 18-4 in the final period. It made the win even sweeter.
"We just played better defense and got the win," he said. "Since they were so hot in the first half, we figured they couldn't keep that up in the second half. And if we played tough defense and executed on the offensive end, we could get the win," he said.
After two easy wins to open the season, a challenge like this was a good test for the Longhorns, Novack said.
"These types of games are what brings out a lot of things in your players. These games make you a better basketball team," he said. "I'm proud of our kids for sticking to our game plan."
Holcomb (3-0) goes against Denver South today at 7 p.m., a team Novack sees playing similar to Trinity.
"That should be a fun game," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Wichita Trinity 26 19 12 4 — 61
Holcomb 22 19 7 18 — 66
Wichita Trinity (61) — Mosley 1 0-2 2, P. Miller 3 0-0 8, Burns 2 5-7 9, Newman 1 2-2 4, Carro 3 1-2 10, Loon 4 0-2 8, Jones 3 1-1 8, R. Miller 5 2-2 13. Totals 22 11-18 61.
Holcomb (66) — LaSalle 3 7-8 13, Hernandez 6 0-0 12, Cox 1 1-2 3, Richmeier 2 3-3 7, Komlofske 1 0-0 3, Bennett 2 2-5 6, Ramsey 9 4-4 22. Totals 24 17-22 66.
3-pt. goals — Trinity 7 (P. Miller 2, Carro 3, Jones 1, R. Miller 1), Holcomb 1 (Komlofske). Rebounds — Trinity - 18 (Burns 4), Holcomb 36 (Ramsey 10, Bennett 9). Turnovers — Wichita 13, Holcomb 13.