HOLCOMB — The Hugoton boys were trying to get to the state tournament for the third straight year.
The Eagles were Class 4A-II state runners-up in 2016 and then lost in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament a year ago.
But the sub-state’s second-seed ran into a Larned team that wanted that chance, too, and the lower-seeded Indians came back in the second half to notch a 62-56 win.
The halftime score was 23-19, Hugoton. The halftime stats show why
The teams combined for 15 of 47 (32 percent) from the floor and 11 turnovers.
And when Hugoton went from a 4-point halftime lead to an 11-point lead midway into the third period, they appeared to have things well in hand.
The Eagles shut down the Indians on offense for over four minutes in building the double-digit lead before Larned came back to finish the period on a 10-3 run to close to within 40-36.
The Indians tied the game on a Trenton Fletcher trey at 4:52 and then took the lead on Keelan Castro’s 3-pointer and a 54-50 lead on Mason Perez’s three at the 2:25 mark, Larned’s ninth of the game.
Damian Lewis’ three-ball at 1:57 pulled the Eagles back to 57-53, and Carlos Montiel’s free throws following a Larned turnover cut that lead to two with 1:44 to play.
But that would be the closest the Eagles could get, as the game became a free throw contest the rest of the way with the Indians going 5 of 10 and Hugoton just 1 of 2.
Perez led Larned into tonight’s finals with a team-high 16 points, with Brock Skelton and Fletcher both adding 11.
While the Indians were just 18 of 47 from the field, half of those were 3-pointers and they were 17 of 26 from the free throw line.
Contrast that to Hugoton’s 21 of 47 from the floor, just six treys and just 8 of 19 from the line.
Larned coach Jerrod Smith, a Larned graduate, said the difference was easy to pinpoint in this win.
“It was Trent Fletcher coming off the bench,” he said. “He’s another sophomore that probably hasn’t played two quarters of varsity time all year.”
But because of personnel circumstances, Smith said, he got in and took advantage of his time with all 11 of his points coming in the second half.
“And look at the energy he brought. We see that in practice from him,” he said. “He had a little swagger tonight.”
The third-quarter turnaround was harder to nail down, but Smith said his team has had some runs throughout the season, including losing seven straight before Christmas.
“We had to reboot, and we talked about the whole bottom third of the season was going to be rough,” Smith said.
Starting three sophomores took some training, but once they did — and playing against good teams — things started to click.
Despite the rough first half, Hugoton (10-11) was looking good in the third quarter, coach C.J. Korf said.
“We were playing with a lot more intensity and energy,” he said.
Then Larned changed all that.
“They just had some kids hit some shots that we hadn’t seen do that on film, and they statistically hadn’t done that,” Korf said. “We didn’t respond well to it.”
That’s been his team’s struggle all year, he said.
“We’ve lost so many games where we’ve had leads and just can’t put a team away,” he added. “Then we panic and don’t do what we need to do on the offensive end.”
Hats off to Larned for their effort and making shots when they needed to, Korf added.
Larned (10-11) is now 6-3 in its last nine games, and they have their biggest test of the season tonight as they face 20-1 Holcomb.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge,” Smith said, noting the Longhorns’ record, tradition, size, seniors, and being the defending state champions.
“We have nothing to lose, so we just have to come out ready to play,” he said. “We’ll have to give them everything we’ve got and see what happens.”