Kansas.com

Pratt loses in 4A-II boys championship game

Published March 11 at 8:52 p.m.

EMPORIA – The Class 4A-Division II football trophy from last fall at Pratt High School is going to have to wait a little longer for some company.

Second-seeded Holcomb got a 10-0 burst to start the game from senior forward Conner VanCleave and were able to maintain the advantage the rest of the way for a 60-45 victory Saturday evening over the Greenbacks in the 4A-II boys basketball title game.

Last fall, in the 4A-II football semifinals, Pratt defeated Holcomb, 21-14, en route to the title.

VanCleave powered the Longhorns’ fast start, and whenever Pratt appeared to pulling slightly closer, there was VanCleave with one of his five three-pointers or a key tip-in with his 6-7 frame.

A University of Kansas baseball signee, VanCleave finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds in the title game.

“We couldn’t stop him,” Pratt coach Chris Battin said of VanCleave. “He’s a good basketball player. He could arguably go (NCAA Division I) in football, basketball and is going in baseball. That’s why he’s a special player. They kept feeding him; they knew where to get the ball.”

Battin, though pleased with the season, felt the frustration of coming up just short of a championship.

“These kids deserve a lot of credit for how hard they fought and put themselves in position for a state title,” he said. “They did a wonderful job.”

Even though the Greenbacks (19-6) shot just 32 percent from the field for the game, Battin said that had more to do with Holcomb’s internal defense.

“I think that was more them protecting the rim,” he said. “We attacked the rim, and unfortunately our shots weren’t falling. But you’ve got to keep attacking, and we just ended up a little short on it.”

When Pratt was able to go inside, many of the close-in shots hit the back iron and bounced away instead of going through the net.

“They were forcing us to adjust our shot, and unfortunately they weren’t quite falling,” Battin said. “But credit to (Holcomb). They’re really good offensively with those two bigs inside. It’s a good basketball team; we really don’t have much to hang our heads about. It sets the tone for what we want to do and where we want to be, and hopefully we can find ways to get back here.

“We’ve got to continue to work and embrace the process. We’ve got some great kids going through right now, and that’s a credit to our school and our system.”

After Holcomb hit 12 of 20 first-half shots and took a 31-22 halftime lead, Pratt valiantly tried to cut into the deficit. But each time the Greenbacks inched closer, Holcomb (24-1) would get a big shot from VanCleave, 6-8 post Kobe Dickson or junior guard Carter Blackburn – who was lights out from the free-throw line, hitting five of six and finishing with nine points.

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