State bound: 'Horns edge Cheney to punch ticket
By KEVIN THOMPSON
By KEVIN THOMPSON
CIMARRON — What a difference a Trey makes.
That's how much the Holcomb Longhorns won by over Cheney, 53-50, Saturday night to win the Class 3A sub-state title and earn a trip to the state tournament in Hutchinson later this week.
And that's how much Trey Sleep dominated for Holcomb in the second half, finishing with 18 of his game-high 24 points in the final two periods.
And it was a missed trey by the Cardinals at the buzzer that clinched the Longhorn's first trip to the state tournament since 2009.
After losing seven seniors from last year's runner-up team, Holcomb had its doubters with a relatively inexperienced team this year, but this team rose to the occasion.
"I feel great for the kids," coach Chad Novack said. "They worked hard for this. They deserve this."
Holcomb overcame an awkward start to keep the game close at halftime, then they used a resurgent second half to overtake and hold off Cheney for the win.
Nine early turnovers that led to nine points hampered the Longhorns in the first half, but they reversed that in the second half, committing just three.
"We did a much better job in the second half handling the ball. In the first half, our bigs didn't do a good job with that, but the second half they did a great job of being physical and demanding the ball, and our guards did a good job of getting it to them," Novack said.
The Longhorns held a 7-3 lead with 3:08 to go in the first quarter before Cheney's Cameron Hill scored nine points in an 11-0 run that extended into the second, before Holcomb came back to take a 23-20 lead. Then, Hill converted a 3-point play with under a minute to give his team a 24-23 halftime lead.
The third quarter saw four lead changes, the final coming at 2:42 when Sleep hit a spinning inside jumper to put Holcomb up for good, 35-34. Those were the ninth and 10th of his 12 points of the quarter, part of a 12-5 run.
He and Gottschalk finished the period off with six more points to give the Horns a 41-33 lead.
Holcomb ran a spread offense in the fourth, getting up by eight at 4:25, before the Cardinals rallied.
Hill's trey cut the lead to three, but Gottschalk and Heath Tucker found Sleep for two more layups, and Holcomb had a seven-point lead.
Hill scored the next five points to cut the lead down to two again and both teams traded turnovers before Gottschalk hit Sleep again at 1:04 for a 52-48 lead.
A Connor VanCleave free throw finished off Holcomb's scoring at 27 seconds.
Cheney had three tries to score after that, ending with the senior Tucker contesting Hill's final 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
"It's about time. That's all I can say," an elated Tucker said amid the celebrating.
Gottschalk said in the second half the Longhorns had a chemistry working that made it easy to dish off for high-percentage shots.
"And we tried to bring them out to open up the middle and attack it to get the easy buckets," he said.
That chemistry took the entire season to develop. He said the team has known all along they've had the talent to get this far, but they had to work on it.
"It wasn't easy, but we just worked hard," he said. "We came out as sub-state champs."
Sleep, who missed two games recently with an injured shoulder, showed no ill-effects. He missed only two shots on the night and hit 8-of-9 shots in the second half.
"This feels great," he said. "We came out (the second half) and just started playing Longhorn basketball. We picked it up."
He credits his teammates for getting him the ball in the second half.
"That's what's good about our team. We don't have to have one guy who scores. We work to spread the ball around. Tonight was my turn," he said.
Cheney had no rebounds in the third quarter, and that was a sign of Holcomb's improved play in the second half, Novack said.
"We did a great job of blocking out and limiting them to one-and-out," he said. "On offense, we crashed the boards and got some easy put-backs."
Cheney hit some tough shots to cut the late lead to two, he added, but the Longhorns always responded.
On the final timeout, Novack even smiled and asked his team if they were having fun.
"I didn't want them to be tense and tight in that situation," he said. "I said this is what it's all about. This is why we practice all year. I asked if they were prepared. They said 'yes.'"
They were, with Tucker doing a good job contesting Hill's final attempt, he said.
Tucker, who got a finger on that shot, said the trip to state may be new, but most have been to the venue to support the girls the past two years and they've even practiced at the facility.
"We just have to go in there and treat it like another game," he said. "We just have to come out and play as hard as we can, like we always do."
"It'll be a new experience, but we just pride ourselves with taking one game at a time," he said. "We're going to approach it just like any other game, and keep our routine."
He guaranteed the Longhorns will go in with confidence. His team has achieved every goal thus far. Just one remains.
"We deserve to be there," he said. "There's a reason we're there."
Cheney 10 14 9 17 -- 50
Holcomb 7 16 18 12 -- 53
Cheney (16-6)--Grover 1 3-3 6, Wheelock 2 2-2 7, Patterson 4 0-1 9, Hill 8 6-9 26, Amsink 0 2-2 2. Totals 15-39 13-18 50.
Holcomb (20-3)--Gottschalk 4 3-4 11, Tucker 2 1-3 6, Sleep 11 2-4 24, Rupp 0 2-2 2, Richmeier 2 0-1 2, Merz 1 0-0 3, VanCleave 1 1-2 3. Totals 21-45 9-16 53.
3-point goals--Cheney 7-12 (Grover, Wheelock, Patterson, Hill 4), Holcomb 2-10 (Tucker, Merz). Rebounds--Cheney 14 (Hill 4), Holcomb 28 (Gottschalk 7, Sleep 7). Turnovers--Cheney 7, Holcomb 12. Fouled out--none. Total fouls--Cheney 17, Holcomb 16. Technical fouls--none.