Oklahoma City — I ran into Latta senior Kade Hayes outside the doors of the State Fair Arena Friday night, just minutes after he and his Panther teammates had cruised past Thomas 54-39 during a Class 2A State semifinal matchup.
One couldn't help but notice that one of his shoes was off and his foot was all wrapped up.
I immediately thought, "Uh-oh."
When asked about it, he mostly blew it off — something about his foot swelling up on him.
“You gonna be OK for tomorrow’s championship game?” I probed.
“Oh, yeah. I won’t even think about it tomorrow,” he quickly replied.
Latta head coach Donnie Husband echoed his sentiments.
“He’s a gamer, he’ll be fine,” he said.
Just over 24 hours later, Hayes erupted for a game-high 22 point to lead the Panthers to a 57-50 come-from-behind win over Haworth that allowed the Panthers to become the first Class 2A boys repeat state champions since Pawnee won three straight from 2008 to 2010.
He was right. If his foot was hurting him, I sure couldn’t tell. I’m sure no one else could either. I didn’t notice the slightest limp.
What we all noticed was him making big play after big play en route to a performance that solidified his being named the 2A Boys State Tournament MVP. Hayes finished with 22 points and hit 7-of-9 free throws and three huge 3-point shots.
“I was just feeling great. I knew I had to make plays. I just play off these other guys. When they get into it, I get into it. The whole bench was in o it. That’s when we’re at our best, when everybody’s into it,” he said after a handful of television and newspaper interviews.
Hayes, of course, is one of many Latta players who will soon have two state championship rings.