HOLCOMB — The only way for a young and eager team like the Holcomb Lady Longhorns to prove themselves is to take each challenge one at a time.
As they were disposing of Kansas City-Christian in their home gym Thursday during the Southwest Classic, Pueblo, Colo., East was engaged in a tough battle in Garden City’s gym, winning in overtime.
How would the Holcomb team fare against the tougher opponent Friday night?
Not as well, as the Horns suffered their first loss of the season, 61-52.
It was a struggle for the smaller Longhorns as Pueblo attacked inside, set up by a barrage of long-range shots when they mattered.
For a young team still trying to find itself, the girls need to figure out who they are, Holcomb girls coach Nathan Novack said.
It’s what they discussed at length following the loss.
“We talked personalities. We’re a pretty quiet group besides maybe three girls, and we need everybody to speak up,” he said.
His team was receptive to the discussion, Novack said, a healthy conversation to have after a loss like Friday’s.
Holcomb found itself in the unusual position of gracious hosts early, giving the ball away nine times in its first 11 possessions as the Eagles took a 9-4 lead.
Down 26-20 later in the second, Taylor Deniston hit a pair of treys to tie the game — giving her 21 points in the half — and Jordan Jarnagin hit a spinning layup to give Holcomb its first lead of the game, 28-26, late in the first half.
But in the third, Deniston picked up three quick fouls and went to the bench, and the Eagles took advantage, taking a 44-39 lead into the final period.
An Eboni Sapien trey to start the fourth brought Holcomb to within two, and an Emily Ratliff trey at 5:10 pulled them within four to stop a run of Eagles’ scoring, but that was as close as Holcomb could get.
They connected for just one field goal in the final five minutes.
“We made a couple of runs here and there throughout the game, but every time it seemed like we just got lax at that juncture,” he said. “We turned the ball over a couple times here and there, and those are crucial times when they’re able to come back and get an easy bucket.”
Kayla Albo and Jailen Minich combined for 32 points, hitting a combined five 3-pointers, including three straight in the third period just after Holcomb took a 35-33 lead.
“We focused on (Minich) quite a bit, and we held her below 34 (she scored that the previous night against Garden City). That was our goal,” Novack said.
But they weren’t able to keep Albo off the 3-point line, and she made shots at crucial moments.
Deniston led all scorers with 25 points, but she only had four after halftime.
Jarnagin finished with 12, including six in the third when Deniston sat with foul trouble.
Sapien added eight.
Holcomb looks to rebound against Garden City in the ArkRiver Rivalry this evening, and Novack expects a more balanced team than what people have seen.
“They’re going to be hard to defend, definitely,” he said. But his girls should match up well.
Pueblo East (4-2)—Winston 2 4-5 8, Albo 4 3-4 14, Day 3 3-4 9, Padula 2 1-3 5, Minnich 6 4-4 18, Harding 2 2-2 6. Totals 19-47 17-22 61.
Holcomb (2-1)—Sapien 2 2-2 8, Deniston 8 7-10 25, Ratliff 2 0-0 5, Engler 1 0-0 2, Jarnagin 5 2-5 12. Totals 18-45 11-17 52.
Pueblo East 14 12 18 17 — 61
Holcomb 13 15 11 13 — 52
3-point goals: Pueblo East 5-15 (Albo 3, Minnich 2), Holcomb 5-9 (Sapien 2, Deniston 2, Ratliff). Rebounds—Pueblo East 20 (Minnich 6), Holcomb 36 (Jarnagin 12, Engler 9). Total fouls—Pueblo East 19, Holcomb 18. Fouled out—Pueblo East (Winston). Technical fouls—none.