By KEVIN THOMPSON
HOLCOMB — Heath Tucker had played on the Holcomb varsity the past four years, but never on a team that could find a way to beat Scott City, which had won three consecutive Class 3A state championships during that stretch.
In school Tuesday, Tucker wore a Velcro monkey around his neck as a reminder, and an incentive, and now he doesn't have to anymore.
That's because a hot Holcomb team took out the top team in Class 4A-Div. II, 66-57, for its sixth straight win.
Not only did that end a 12-game losing streak that dates back to Jan. 27, 2009, but it put the Longhorns in the driver's seat for the Great West Activities Conference title with two games left to play.
The Beavers last lost to Holcomb here 57-55. Tuesday, things were almost that close, but Holcomb played better when they needed.
Scott City jumped out to a 9-3 lead at 4:21 in the first quarter. They didn't score another field goal until 4:50 left in the second quarter.
In that stretch, the monkeys literally left the Longhorns' necks as they went on a 14-0 run and never looked back, though the Beavers mounted a number of comebacks.
With 43 seconds left in the half, Trey O'Neil hit a jumper to close the score to 25-20, but Dalton Gottschalk nailed a three to get the eight-point lead back before Sloan Baker made a 3-point play with five seconds left.
O'Neil got the score down to 28-25 to start the third period, but Calen Rupp hit consecutive threes and Conner VanCleave took entry passes for easy layups and the lead was 11 (38-27).
Scott City climbed back to within two with 2:09 on another Baker 3-point play.
Then Holcomb scored on five straight possessions and the lead was back to 12 (53-41) to end the quarter.
In that run, Tucker tipped in a missed free throw, Rupp hit his third trey of the period, Tucker followed with a three off an inbounds play, and Christian Merz closed with another three.
Holcomb was 10 of 14 from the floor in that pivotal period, including a perfect 5-of-5 from downtown.
Scott City got to the line often in the fourth quarter (Holcomb led 10-3 on personal fouls two minutes in). While they converted 8 of 15 foul shots, they were just 3 of 10 from the floor and the closest they got was 55-46.
Holcomb only made free throws after the 5:37 mark, going just 7 for 14 down that stretch, but it was enough.
Getting down early was a challenge mentally, Tucker said, but staging the comeback shows how much the Longhorns have matured this season.
"Earlier in the season, we would have crumbled under that kind of pressure," Tucker said. "Over the season we've learned to keep our composure and stay calm."
Getting turnovers early and converting them for layups helped, he said, a result of good scouting and preparation.
Coach Chad Novack said this game reversed what happened against Scott City a month ago when his team caved under the pressure.
"Our youth and inexperience really hurt us then," he said. "Tonight, after we got down 9-3, our kids stayed with the game plan and stayed focused. These guys have really figured out how good we really could be."
Gottschalk led Holcomb with 18 points, Tucker 15, and Rupp and VanCleave 11 each, but it was the Holcomb defense that really turned the tide, Novack said.
"We did an unbelievable job to hold them for almost eight minutes without a bucket," he said. "With our length and athleticism we should be able to get in the passing lanes and create turnovers and we did that tonight."
That defense held O'Neil to 12 points, half his season average. Novack said that after their first meeting, Tucker told him he really wanted to guard O'Neil. His senior rose to that challenge, he said.
The three-point barrage also helped, Novack said, as Scott City was keying on his inside players and the outside game stepped up. Holcomb was 7 of 14 from that area.
Last week Scott City played four games in six days, two of those make-up games, losing one and struggling to win two others.
Beaver head coach Glenn O'Neil said Tuesday's start has been typical of his team lately.
"We'll build a lead, and then on defense we'll have a couple breakdowns, which allows them to make some shots," he said. "Then on offensive end, we start to go dry and stop moving it."
The difference, he said, was Rupp hitting his threes and the Beavers failing to counter that or stop him.
The tight schedule didn't allow time to correct fundamentals, he added. Fortunately the schedule slows down enough where they can fix what they need to get back on track.
"You've got to learn from your past," O'Neil said. "But we got tired after last week. Now it's time to regroup and reset our goals."
Holcomb is on a high right now and shooting well, he said, playing well with confidence and playing loosely.
"That's something we're not doing right now," O'Neil said. "It comes down to making shots, and everything looks better."
Baker led the Beavers (15-3, 6-2) with 18 points, 10 of those from the line. Brett Meyer joined O'Neil with 12 points.
Holcomb travels to Ulysses Friday and then host Hugoton Tuesday as the top team in the conference at 7-1. Scott City travels to Colby on Friday and then hosts Goodland on Tuesday.
"It's a great position to be in, but they're not just going to give it to us," Novack said. "We've got to earn it. But we're in the position we need to be."
Scott City 9 14 18 16 -- 57
Holcomb 12 16 25 13 -- 66
Scott City (15-3, 6-2)--Pounds 2 0-0 4, Strine 1 0-1 2, Hutchins 3 0-0 9, O'Neil 4 3-6 12, Meyer 4 3-4 12, Baker 4 10-12 18. Totals 18-45 16-23 57.
Holcomb (15-3, 7-1)--Gottschalk 6 5-11 18, Tucker 5 4-4 15, Sleep 1 2-3 4, Rupp 3 2-5 11, Richmeier 1 2-5 4, Merz 1 0-0 3, VanCleave 5 0-0 11. Totals 21-45 15-28 66.
3-point field goals--Scott City 5-19 (Hutchins 3, O'Neil, Meyer), Holcomb 7-14 (Gottschalk, Tucker, Rupp 3, VanCleave). Rebounds--Scott City 27 (Baker 8), Holcomb 32 (VanCleave 10). Turnovers--Scott City 12, Holcomb 11. Fouled out--Baker, Meyer, Strine, Sleep. Technical fouls--Holcomb (bench).
Holcomb girls 57, Scott City 25
The Lady Longhorns remained atop the conference standings with a 57-25 win over Scott City.
Now 7-1 in the league, Holcomb and Hugoton remain tied for the conference crown, setting up a possible showdown next Tuesday for what could be a league title game at Holcomb.
Still ranked third in Class 3A, the Longhorns scored on their first six possessions to take a 16-0 lead before missing their first shot and continued their torrid run through the quarter for a 26-8 lead at the break.
Holcomb kept that pace most of the game, hitting 21 of its 43 shots, including 6 of 12 from beyond the arc.
Scott City was 10 of 33 from the field, but they turned the ball over 27 times compared to Holcomb's 11.
Taylor Deniston led the Longhorns with 17 points. Haley Heydman added 15 and Jordan Jarnagin chipped in 14.
Kylee Amos led the rebounding for Holcomb with nine of the team's 24.
"We do a good job coming out focused at home," coach Kenton Tennal said. "We also put in a new zone and some different zone offenses. We had something to focus on on both sides of the ball. I thought we executed well and it was good for us."
Bailey Nickel was Scott City's leading scorer and rebounder with eight points and six boards.
Holcomb (16-2), the No.5-ranked team in Class 3A, will travel to Ulysses on Friday for another league game before hosting Hugoton on Tuesday.
Tennal said Ulysses at their place is going to be a tough challenge, and they know what's coming with Hugoton, the No.-3 team in Class 4A-Div. II, who beat them by four points recently. Scott City falls to 2-13 (0-8 in league).
Scott City 8 7 2 8 -- 25
Holcomb 26 11 14 6 -- 57
Scott City (2-13, 0-8)--Lata 0 1-2 1, Hawker 1 0-0 2, Wycoff 3 0-0 7, Nickel 3 2-2 8, Campbell 2 0-0 4, Wilcoxson 1 0-0 3. Totals 10-33 3-4 25.
Holcomb (16-2, 6-1)--Ratliff 1 0-0 3, Jarnagin 4 4-5 14, Heydman 7 1-2 15, Deniston 6 4-5 17, Engler 1 0-0 2, Amos 2 0-0 6. Totals 21-43 9-12 57.
3-point field goals--Scott City 1-6 (Wycoff), Holcomb 6-12 (Amos 2, Engler, Jarnagin 2, Deniston). Rebounds--Scott City 19 (Nickel 6), Holcomb 24 (Amos 9, Jarnagin 6). Turnovers--Scott City 27, Holcomb 11. Fouled out--none. Total fouls--Scott City 13, Holcomb 12. Technical fouls--none.