The Holcomb Longhorns’ versatility was on display Saturday night, as they scored from inside and outside and defended inside and outside, as well, outlasting top-seeded Rock Creek, 63 – 55 in the 4A-Division 2 state championship game at Hartman Arena in Park City. Holcomb started fast, building an 8 – 2 lead in the first three minutes and then stretching the lead to 7, 18 – 11 behind Conner Van Cleave’s 9 1st quarter points, but Rock Creek’s 6’1 senior guard Nate Berard buried a three-pointer at the buzzer, cutting the lead to 4, 18 – 14 after one quarter. Berard kept the Mustangs in the game with 18 1st half points. His 2nd trey of the night early in the 2nd quarter, gave Rock Creek its first lead, 19 – 18. The Mustangs scored the first seven points of the period to lead 21 – 18, but the Longhorns answered with two quick baskets to regain the lead and never trailed again. Holcomb led by 1 at halftime, 28 – 27.
In the 2nd half, coach Chad Novack rotated defenders on Berard, with Dalton Gottschalk, Brandon Stegman and Christian Merz each taking a turn defending him. Novack credited the efforts of that trio with limiting Berard to just 2 second half points. The Longhorns also shut down the Mustang’s leading scorer on the year, 6’5 junior Carson Becker. Becker had scored 52 points in the first two games of the state tournament, but the defensive combination of Conner Van Cleave and Trey Sleep held Becker to just 8 points in the title game. With the defense putting the clamps on Rock Creek’s top guns, Holcomb built a 9-point lead midway through the 3rd quarter. The Mustangs trimmed the lead to 5, 43 – 38, heading into the final stanza.
Rock Creek scored first in the 4th quarter, cutting Holcomb’s lead to 3, but Gottschalk, Sleep and Van Cleave kept finding open lanes to the basket and the Longhorns built the lead to 11 in the final minute. Holcomb sealed the game at the free throw line, sinking 10 of 12 free throws in the 4th quarter, including 6 of 6 from Christian Merz.
Once again, Holcomb controlled the boards, out-rebounding Rock Creek 31 – 19, including 10 offensive rebounds, which led to 8 second-chance points.
As has been the case all year, the Longhorns spread the wealth as four players scored in double figures. Van Cleave led the way with 21 points and 7 rebounds; Merz added 14 points; Gottschalk tossed in 13 points and grabbed 9 rebounds; and Trey Sleep had 12 points. As a team, they dished out 11 assists.
It’s the third basketball state championship for the Holcomb Longhorns, first since 1992 and the first under Chad Novack. Holcomb finishes the season at 24 – 1.