By CONOR NICHOLL
Bucklin boys’ basketball coach Derek Bevan immediately noted Jetmore-Hodgeman County’s height when he mentioned the Longhorns’ strengths. HC posted a 13-9 mark last winter and graduated six players. The Longhorns pose matchup problems for teams with its starting five of 6-foot-4 senior Brayden Bergkamp, 6-foot senior Garrett Ruff, 6-2 senior Blake Boyd, 6-3 senior Marcus Lundmark, and standout 6-3 sophomore Owen Reece.
Bucklin significantly spaces the floor with quick guards and averages around 30 3-point attempts a game. On Jan. 25, Hodgeman County was supposed to play, but the game was moved to Jan. 26 because of weather. Then, the Longhorns beat Kiowa County, 58-55, in the Southern Plains Iroquois midseason tournament quarterfinals.
On Jan. 28, HC defeated Meade, 65-59, in three overtimes in an epic SPIAA semifinal game. Twenty-four hours later, Hodgeman County limited Bucklin to 19 percent shooting in the first half of the title. HC finished plus-11 on the glass in the contest.
“They have got a lot of length,” Bevan said. “And they closed off really quick – made what we normally have when we have the ball a big advantage, they cut that advantage down to nothing almost real quick with their length and speed.”
Hodgeman County ran out of steam in the second half and took a 53-47 loss to Bucklin at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena. Bucklin is ranked sixth in Class 1A, Division II and a strong state contender.
“Lost our legs in the second half,” coach Gustavo Flores said after the title. “Kind of stopped rebounding, and that really hurt on both ends. I don’t think having three overtimes yesterday helped any.”
However, the Longhorns have kept their surprising season with the tournament runner-up. That continued Feb. 1 with a 59-57 overtime win versus Montezuma-South Gray. SG is the defending state runner-up to Olpe. The Rebels and Olpe have been ranked first or second in 1A, Division I by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association all season.
Since 2008, Hodgeman County had lost 23 straight to South Gray, including 78-43 and 73-38 last season.
Last Friday, Hodgeman County collected a 40-26 victory versus Kiowa County. The Longhorns have improved to 12-4 in the second year under Flores, who had previously served a stint as Pawnee Heights’ head coach. Flores helped turn around Pawnee Heights and posted 10-11, 11-9 and 12-10 in his last three seasons.
In the preseason, Hodgeman County was unranked in the top-10 in the classification. Reece posted 17.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists a contest last winter. He was second team all-conference. Bergkamp posted 10.3 points and 2.3 steals a game and was honorable mention all-league.
“Owen is more of a wing player and can post up down low,” Flores said. “Right now, he is kind of our strongest ball handler, and our second-strongest ball handler is the tallest guy on our team. So it’s kind of hard to get an offense going when we have got our two biggest guys up top.”
HC has enjoyed several key wins. The Longhorns lost, 56-54, to Ness City in the Trego Purple and Gold tournament semifinals on Dec. 11. Three days later, HC beat Ness City, 60-56. NC is a returning 1A-I Final Four squad. Both Ness City and Hodgeman County are in the same HC sub-state held at Jetmore.
Plus, Hodgeman County defeated Meade, 56-40, on Dec. 17. Meade was preseason fifth in Class 1A, Division I.
Before this season, the Longhorns had lost eight in a row to Meade dating back to 2006.
Ness City, which is also known for its height with 6-1 senior Taylor Cable and 6-6 senior Corbin Ross, was 13-3 in its last 16 contests versus Hodgeman County.
“I like having the length,” Flores said. “Sometimes I feel like we don’t utilize it like we should. Obviously helps for rebounding.”
Entering Tuesday, Hodgeman County is ranked seventh in 1A, Division I. The Longhorns join Norwich, Macksville and Burlingame as top-10 Division I teams that were unranked in November. Reece has tallied around 20 points a contest.
“He has had some games where he has got kind of face guarded,” Flores said. “Kind of box and one situation, but he kind of finds a way to still attack and utilize that to kind of get the ball to other people when he gets collapsed on.”
The height helped Hodgeman County’s defense hold South Gray to 43 percent shooting, including 35 percent from 3-point range. HC was plus-3 in rebounding margin. Reece finished with 20 points and six assists. Bergkamp recorded 15 rebounds.
With 1 minute, 40 seconds left in overtime, Reece made a steal, and Boyd scored the game-winning basket.