For the first time in the six year history of the Great West Activities Conference, the boys’ basketball championship does not belong to Scott City or Holcomb. The Hugoton Eagles broke that two-team stranglehold on the title with a 50-49 win over the Holcomb Longhorns Tuesday night to finish the conference season at 9-1 and in sole possession of first place. The Longhorns drop to 8-2 in the conference, with their only losses this season coming to the Eagles. Fans can anticipate a potential rematch between these two teams in the sub-state final at Goodland a little more than a week away.
From the get-go, this was a defensive battle as both teams routinely hold opponents to 45 points or less. Four times in the opening half, the Longhorns built 5-point leads, but couldn’t extend the leads any further and the Eagles outscored Holcomb 9-2 over the last 4:30 of the 2nd quarter to take a 20-18 halftime lead. Conner Van Cleave carried the load with 14 of Holcomb’s 18 first half points.
The third quarter was more of the same, as Hugoton built 4-point leads three different times, but could get no further ahead, and Holcomb pushed ahead at the end of the quarter 34-33. The final quarter was what you’d expect between two of the best teams in the state, with 5 lead changes and 2 ties. Sophomore Trey Gilbert, starting in place of the injured Christian Merz, scored all 10 of his points in the final quarter, including a 3-pointer that gave the Longhorns a 43-42 lead with 3:30 to play. Hugoton would retake the lead, but Conner Van Cleave hit two free throws with 1:45 to play to give Holcomb what would be its last lead of the night, 47-46. With a minute to play, the Eagles’ Parker Titus followed his own miss with the go-ahead basket and the Longhorns could never retake the lead.
Conner Van Cleave was a force inside for the Longhorns, scoring 25 points and grabbing 21 rebounds. Van Cleave was also 10 of 11 from the free throw line. Trey Gilbert was the only other Longhorn in double figures with 10. Zack Leininger led the Eagles with 15 points, followed by Parker Titus and Tony Kinser, each with 9. Manuel Mendez had 8 for Hugoton, including 4 critical free throws down the stretch, hitting 4 of 6 from the charity stripe, well above his 39% season average.
Each team shot over 40% from the field, but neither team shot well from the free throw line, with Holcomb hitting 14 of 27 and Hugoton making 16 of 30. As in the first meeting, turnovers again plagued the Longhorns as they committed 17, 6 above their season average, compared to the Eagle’s 13 miscues. Holcomb finishes the regular season at 18-2. Hugoton is 18-1 and will close out the regular season on Friday at Lakin.
In the girls’ game, the Hugoton Lady Eagles were as dominating as they could be, romping over the Holcomb Lady Longhorns 91-37. Hugoton’s ball hawking defense forced 34 Holcomb turnovers, which led to 36 points. The Eagles also shot 57% from the field, including 12 of 20 from beyond the arc. Amy Scott had four of those three-pointers and led all scorers with 22. Sarah Johnson, the lone senior on Hugoton’s team, celebrated senior night with 6 treys and 20 points. Katy Heger added 18 and Dallie Hoskinson had 17. Eboni Sapien led the Longhorns with 12 points.
Holcomb is now 8-12, 5-5 in conference play, as the Longhorns await the start of sub-state play. Hugoton is 18-1 overall and the Lady Eagles win their second straight GWAC title with a perfect 10-0 conference mark. Hugoton finishes the regular season at Lakin on Friday.