It wasn’t the result he was hoping for, but Holcomb coach Landon Lukens got the effort he expected.
At Clint Lightner Stadium, site of the Class 4A-II regional baseball tournament, host Holcomb fought to the final out but fell to Larned 6-4 in the second semifinal game of the afternoon.
Top-seeded Pratt had ended Hugoton's season earlier with a 10-0, 5-inning, run-rule decision. In the championship game, Pratt prevailed over the Indians, 4-1, to reach the state tournament, which is set for May 24 and 25 in Salina.
Holcomb’s hopes of defending its 2017 state title ended with the loss to Larned.
But not for lack of effort, Lukens emphasized.
“Don’t fault the effort. Larned’s a good team, despite their record being close to .500,” he said. “They play some good competition in central Kansas, and they showed it. They did some right things.”
Holcomb jumped on Larned starter Alex Barger in the bottom of the first.
Kaden Tichenor belted a one-out triple to center field, plating Jameson Martin for a 1-0 lead.
Starting pitcher River Amos made that stand, at least for three innings. The junior ace put away nine of the first 11 batters he faced, five by strikeouts.
That changed, though, in the fourth inning.
A leadoff walk led to a runner advancing to third with one out. Shevin Martin hit a short pop up behind second, which was misplayed into an error, the tying run.
Then, the proverbial flood gates opened.
Jordan Taylor followed that miscue with a double to center field, scoring Martin. A walk and single loaded the bases, still with one out and chased Amos.
A balk scored the third run of the inning, and Larned tacked on one more to take a 4-1 lead.
Another error in the fifth led to a fifth Indians run, but Holcomb had an answer.
AJ Ortega drove in Kyle Hammond with a sacrifice fly, and he scored three batters later on a wild throw from shortstop to second, the only Larned error of the game.
A wild pitch scored a third run, and a walk and hit batter loaded the bases, but the ‘Horns left them there but had closed the gap to 5-4.
Larned scored an insurance run in the sixth, and Holcomb was down to its final at bat in the seventh.
A leadoff single from Tichenor was Barger’s pitch limit, bringing in Austin Gladow. He got two strikeouts but Tichenor stole two bases, putting the tying run at the plate in Jordan Ramsey.
Ramsey tried to guide a hit between first and second, but a bang-bang play at first ended the ‘Horns’ season.
That one error in the fourth was costly, Lukens said.
“It snowballed from there,” he said. “It kind of opened up a can of worms.”
But Amos, Brayden Goddard and Chance Rodriguez kept his team in the game with solid pitching.
The rest of the team was up to the task, bunting and stealing as he asked.
“I cannot fault the effort one bit. A ball or two go another way, and it’s a different game,” Lukens said.
The Longhorns' offense, which had been solid all season, managed just six hits, three of them by Martin and two by Tichenor. Paden Cornelsen had the only other safety for the 'Horns.
Holcomb finished 14-7, not bad for his first season as head coach, Lukens said.
“I’ve learned a lot from being my first year as a head coach. These seniors (10 of them) have been with me four years (previously assistant coach to Todd VanCleave). I’ve got to see them from freshman grow all the way through,” he said.