By KEVIN THOMPSON
HOLCOMB — Friday's game had all the markings of a formidable task from the start.
Holcomb hadn't played a game in two weeks due to a snow days and cancellations.
It was homecoming and they were facing the No. 10-ranked team in state 2A, the always tough Lady Mustangs of Southwestern Heights.
If this were a movie, the Lady Longhorns would have won the game at the buzzer. And they could have pretended the second quarter hadn't played out as it did.
But it was reality, and instead they found themselves on the losing end of a 49-46 score; falling for just the third time this season.
The good news is, the Longhorns did not give up after being outscored 19-5 in a forgettable second period. Instead, they came out after halftime with a sense of purpose and looked rejuvenated.
Holcomb turned the tables on the Mustangs, holding them to just four free throws in the third quarter, turning an 11-point halftime deficit into four heading into the final period.
Amy Stegman's spinning jumper on an inbounds play just seconds into the quarter cut the lead to two. Breanna Gottschalk did the same a minute later and Katie Pfeifer did it once again a minute later, as both teams answered each other's threats.
Things really heated up after Heights took a 44-40 lead before an unlikely hero came through for Holcomb. Sophomore Karissa Pena rebounded a Stegman miss and hit a layup with :59 left.
Then Stegman stole the ball on the next possession, Gottschalk gathered it in and hit Pena underneath to tie the game with :37 left.
Heights' Heidi Brown hit one of two free throws to gain a one-point lead.
Stegman and Pena both missed shots on Holcomb's next possession and Sheree Ryan hit two more free throws to close out the game.
While the loss was disappointing for Holcomb, coach Kelly Snodgrass found the silver lining afterwards.
"I commend their fight," she said of her team. "The girls played hard. They left if all on the court."
Her team played their hearts out, she added, and hung in despite being the shorter team.
"They outsized us by about five inches everywhere," she said. "My girls played man-to-man like they weren't scared. They didn't back down."
Heights was 19-of-23 from the free throw line while Holcomb was just 5-of-10.
"You can't put a team to the free throw line that many times. They shoot well. That's a tribute to them," she said.
Holcomb countered Heights' size by running a full-court press to start the second half, forcing eight turnovers and effectively shutting down what is normally a consistent Mustang offense.
"We knew we had to use our speed against their size," Snodgrass said.
And while Snodgrass' team goal is always to win the rebounding (they lost this time 34-24), her girls boxed out as well as they could with the size difference.
"They stepped their game up that third quarter," Heights coach Barry Mellen said of Holcomb's comeback. "They threw our timing off, we took some bad shots and we didn't attack them like we should have."
Now 12-2, the Mustangs look to get Dani Jacobs back in about one more week. She has been out all season after a broken leg at the end of volleyball season.
Gottschalk led all scorers with 19 points, including four three-pointers.
Brown led the Mustangs wit 16 points, nine of those coming at the free throw line. Ryan added 12.
Now 13-3, Snodgrass sees sub-state in the near future and her Longhorns looking ready for the stretch despite Friday's loss.
"They had fight tonight," she reiterated of her team.
SW Heights 12 19 4 12 -- 47
Holcomb 15 5 11 13 -- 44
Heights — Garinger 4 2-3 11, B. Jacobs 0 2-4 2, Brown 3 9-10 16, Coats 1 0-0 2, Loya 1 0-0 2, Ryan 4 4-4 12, Stout 0 2-2 2. Totals 13 19-23 47.
Holcomb — Pfeifer 2 0-0 4, Prieto 4 0-0 8, Gottschalk 6 3-4 19, Pena 2 1-4 5, Stegman 1 1-2 3, Landwehr 2 0-0 5. Totals 17 5-10 44.
3-point goals — Heights 2 (Garinger 1, Brown 1), Holcomb 5 (Gottschalk 4, Landwehr 1). Rebounds — Heights 34 (Brown 8), Holcomb 24 (Gottschalk 9). Turnovers — Heights 23, Holcomb 13.