By BRETT MARSHALL
Most coaches will tell you that they simply take it "one game at a time."
Holcomb girls coach Kelley Snodgrass is no different.
So, it may have been somewhat of a surprise to discover that the fourth-year Lady Longhorns coach had gone to the school record book to see when the last time the girls team had made an appearance in the Hi-Plains League mid-season tournament finals.
Evidently, there was no superstitious events going on to derail the Longhorns in pursuit of one of their primary season goals as they utilized a smothering defense and solid rebounding to knock off the Cimarron Lady Bluejays, 44-33, Thursday night in one semifinal contest at the Dennis Perryman Athletic Complex.
"The girls have set high goals for this season, and the league tournament is one of those," Snodgrass said. "Yes, I looked up the record and the last time we were in the championship game was 2001."
Holcomb (9-1) now faces defending champion and Class 3A state champion Southwestern Heights for the title at 6 p.m. Saturday. Cimarron takes on Syracuse at 2:30 p.m. in the third place game.
Perhaps it has a little to do with the fact that this is the last season for Holcomb to play in the Hi-Plains League (member since the 1960s) as they will join Hugoton, Scott City, Colby, Goodland and Ulysses next year in the newly-formed Great West Athletic Conference.
"We're just focused on the games and not trying to worry about anything else," Snodgrass said of her youthful squad that includes just one senior who sees much playing time. "We missed a lot of chippies and went through a scoring drought at different times."
In a first quarter that both Snodgrass and Cimarron coach David Ediger would soon like to forget, the Lady Longhorns led just 6-1 with the Bluejays' lone point coming on a free throw with 2:13 to go by sophomore guard Avery Burns.
Cimarron's offense did warm up some in the second quarter and was able to narrow the deficit to just a single point, 13-12, having taken a 12-11 lead with 1:21 left before intermission.
Snodgrass' halftime speech must have worked, as the Longhorns came out and scored 17 points in the eight-minute stretch to extend that lead to eight, 30-22, heading into the final period.
"Defense was the key tonight when our offense was struggling," Snodgrass said. "We've harped on defense and rebounding all season and it paid off tonight."
The Longhorns held the Bluejays to just 11-of-37 shooting (29.7 percent) and outrebounded Cimarron, 35-27, with junior Breanna Gottschalk grabbing a game-high 12 boards.
"Bre has been carrying us a long time and it has been a big load," Snodgrass said of her 5-10 forward. "But everyone's getting better and it takes a team effort to be where we are today. Hopefully, we're taking some of the scoring load off of her with others stepping up in recent games."
Thursday night, it was freshman guard Katie Pfeifer's turn. The 5-3 Pfeifer scored 10 points, including a critical 3-pointer midway through the third period when the game was still in the balance and the Longhorns down by four. Cimarron's last lead came at 22-21 and the Longhorns closed out the third period on a 9-0 run. In that spurt, four different players scored for the Longhorns.
Cimarron remained within range of Holcomb until midway through the fourth quarter when a 38-32 deficit turned into a 42-32 game with less than a minute to play.
Gottschalk led the scoring for Holcomb with 11 points and Pfeifer added 10. For Cimarron, Burns was the lone double-figure scorer with a game-high 17 points before fouling out with 40 seconds to play.
The rebounding advantage was 35-27 in favor of the Longhorns as Gottschalk grabbed 12. Burns had 5 to lead the Bluejays.
Holcomb 44, Cimarron 33
CIMARRON (7-4) — Burns 5-9 5-10 17, Siek 0-0 2-3 2, Wehkamp 4-7 0-1 8, Ridenour 0-2 1-2 1, Helfrich 2-7 0-0 5, Bryant 0-6 0-0 0, Dupree 0-2 0-0 0, Lock 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 11-37 8-16 33.
HOLCOMB (9-1) — Pfeifer 3-8 3-4 10, Baier 1 2-2 4, Asmus 1-2 2-6 4, Gottschalk 2-8 6-10 11, Komlofske 2-3 4-7 8, Boyles 1-5 0-0 3, Pena 1-2 0-0 2, Stegman 0-4 2-2 2. Totals 11-34 19-31 44.
Cimarron 1 11 10 11 -- 33
Holcomb 6 7 17 14 -- 44
3-point goals — Cimarron 3-5 (Burns 2-2, Helfrich 1-3); Holcomb 3-11 (Pfeifer 1-3, Gottschalk 1-5, Boyles 1-2, Langwehr 0-1). Rebounds — Holcomb 35 (Gottschalk 12), Cimarron 27 (Burns 5). Turnovers — Holcomb 15, Cimarron 16. Fouls — Holcomb 19, Cimarron 21. Fouled out — Cimarron (Burns, Wehkamp).