Kade Hayes saw Latta teams before him make it to the Big House for the state basketball tournament.
And he saw them all lose.
Thanks to Hayes' hot shooting, and tough Latta defense, this year's Panthers brought home the school's first gold ball in boys basketball.
“My brother made it, and so did my cousin, but they got beat out in the semifinals. Now I can say we went all the way,” said Hayes, who scored 15 points in Latta's 58-41 win over Haworth in the Class 2A title game Saturday night at State Fair Arena.
Fifth-ranked Latta (29-3) had never reached the championship game before Saturday, but it seized control early in its first finals appearance.
Midway through the first quarter, Latta hit four 3-pointers — three courtesy of Hayes — in a 12-0 run that opened up a double-digit lead Haworth would never overcome. Haworth was 3-of-17 from the field in the first half
“We hang our hat on our defense; we have all year,” said Latta coach Donnie Husband. “We played great defense and kept ourselves in the game until our offense could get better.”
Trent Storts and Hayes combined for five of Latta's six 3-pointers. Storts led all scorers with 18 and Hayes had 15, while Jake Collins added 10 points and Brogan Cantrell had five assists for the Panthers, one of the season's more unexpected state champs.
“We played in the game to go to state last year, so we thought we would have a chance to make it to state this year,” Husband said. “Our goal was to play the last day of the season. A lot of teams have that goal, but not everyone is gifted enough to get to do it.
“You think you can be this good, but you never know.”