For all the glitz and glamour it possesses, and it has plenty of both, the spanking-new gymnasium on the campus of Sloan-Hendrix had a comfortable, almost familiar feel Feb. 19. The feel of the Longhorn Corral in Viola.
As a matter of fact, a good chunk of Fulton County made its way to Imboden that night to watch both the Longhorns and Lady Horns battle for the championship of the 2AA-North District Tournament.
And, at the end of the evening, those fans had to feel satisfied as they made their way back home from Lawrence County, as did the Longhorns and Lady Longhorns who took the first-place tournament trophies with them.
The Lady Longhorns knocked off the Izard County Consolidated Lady Cougars 55-46, while the Horns hooked the homestanding Greyhounds of Sloan-Hendrix 47-38.
Currently ranked number five in their first year at the Class AA level after moving up from the A ranks last year, the Lady Longhorns have certainly found the 2AA-North to their liking, plowing through the conference untouched this season.
"You just hope that you can compete at a higher level," said first-year Lady Longhorn Head Coach Jason Hughes. "But to go undefeated and win the district tournament is special. It's great. That just says a lot about the character and athletic ability of our girls."
The Lady Longhorns (26-3) got a big lift from a Jaime Daily 3-pointer late in the first period to put some distance between themselves and ICC.
With the first six minutes of the game going back-and-forth with a two-point lead being the biggest either side could muster, Dailey's (11 points) triple at the 1:52 point of the first period gave Viola some breathing room, as the Lady Horns took a 17-10 lead after the first period.
Lady Cougar Brittney Richardson did most of the damage for ICC (28-9) in the second period, as she tallied five of her game-high 21 points in the period.
Despite this, a layup from Lindsey Barker (19 points) kept Lady Longhorns in control 23-17 at the halftime break.
The third period was equally as close, with ICC pulling within three points, 31-28, at the 1:44 mark thanks to a hoop from Lady Cougar Sammi Fowler (13 points).
Showing why they went unscathed in conference play with a perfect mark this season, the Lady Longhorns regrouped with a strong start to the final frame.
Up 36-30 after three, Viola posted the first two hoops of the fourth, a stickback from Micah Thompson (four points) and layup by Kyla Batterton (15 points) to extend their margin to the biggest of the game to that point, 40-30.
Lauren Cunningham (10 points) stopped the run with a hoop for ICC, but Batterton came right back with a big trey to keep Viola in command.
Narrowing the gap to six, 49-43, on a triple by Richardson with 48 ticks left in the game, ICC couldn't get any closer as the Lady Horns rounded out the contest with six free throws to knock off ICC.
Cayla Cotter finished with two points for Viola, while Teegan Baumunk added four.
Brittney Bailey tallied two for the Lady Cougars.
"We've got three strong seniors that play (Barker, Batterton and Cotter) and they all had to hit big free throws down the stretch for us to win," Hughes said. "They've all been there before, and they showed a lot of character. They pulled us through when they (ICC) made their runs at us."
The Lady Horns nailed down the district's top spot in the Class AA Region 3 Tournament at Midland this week, while ICC will occupy the 2AA-North's second slot.
After the Sloan-Hendrix Greyhounds had upset top-seeded Norfork in the semi-final round, the second-seeded Longhorns knew they would be in for a battle with the Greyhounds on their home floor for the tourney title.
They probably just didn't know that a desperation heave would be so important to their cause.
With the Horns (29-7) in front 25-18 at the half, the Greyhounds made their run in the third period.
Using a 9-0 spurt deep in the frame, Sloan-Hendrix rallied to lock the contest at 29-all, marking the first time on the night they had been closer than two points to the Longhorns.
Ryan Walker (nine points) stopped the run with a free throw at the 1:05 mark to put Viola back on top 30-29.
Sloan-Hendrix worked to get a shot as time ran off the third-period clock, but an offensive foul on the Greyhounds gave the ball back to Viola under the Sloan-Hendrix hoop with three seconds left.
Cody Hutson (eight points) inbounded the ball to Cory Batterton. Batterton (seven points) then fired the ball from the half-court line, watching as it banked in off the glass at the buzzer, staking his squad to a 33-29 lead.
In the grand scheme of things, this shot turned out to be huge.
With a four-point lead and Sloan-Hendrix' team fouls at seven, putting Viola in the one-and-one at the start of the fourth, the Longhorns could afford to spread the floor, looking for layups or free throws.
This plan worked out, as Viola got both on their way to a nine-point win that earned the Horns the district's top spot at this week's regional tournament.
Kevin Painter popped the nets for 10 points for Viola, while Kaleb West added seven, Tyler Richardson four, and Dalton Haley two.
Viola topped the Izard County Consolidated Cougars 59-42 in the semi-final round Feb. 17.
ICC will be the 2AA-North's fourth seed in the regional tournament at Midland.