At times during Tuesday night’s season opener at Dale, the Latta boys squad showed why veteran coach Donnie Husband is optimistic about his team’s prospects this season, despite the loss of three starters off his 2009-2010 squad to graduation.

But the Panthers also showed their youth, hitting just two of 10 shots in the fourth quarter and dropping a 46-41 decision to the rebuilt Pirates.

Dale, the defending Class 2A state champion, also won the girls contest, 56-46, over a Lady Panther squad that, because of fouls and injuries, had its starters on the floor together for less than half the game.

BOYS

Dale 46, Latta 41

Latta star Reed Johnson trimmed a seven-point (40-33) deficit with less than three minutes to play to a single point twice in the final seconds — on a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 40-39 with 39 seconds remaining and on a pair of free throws less than 15 seconds later. But Braeden Burnett, one of five new starters on a team that reached the 2A semifinals a season ago, hit four straight free throws over the final 21.6 seconds to seal the victory.

Despite his late-game heroics and a game-high 19 points, Johnson managed just three shots (one of them a desperation 3-point attempt with two seconds to play) in the second half against a Dale defense that was obviously geared to deny him the ball.

“You have to make shots — that’s the bottom line,” Husband said after seeing his club take just 14 shots and hit only three over the final 13 minutes after starting the second half 4-for-7. “If they’re going to play junk defense on our best player, some people have to step up, or we’re going to have to play better defensively. We paid for every defensive mistake we made.

“We didn’t turn the ball over a lot after the first four or five minutes, and we did some good things defensively in the second half,” he added. “I thought we would do a better job of moving the basketball on offense, though, and we didn’t.”

The Panthers cut a 26-18 halftime deficit to one with a 7-0 flurry in the first 2:37 of the third quarter highlighted by two layups from senior center Dylan Tinkler — one on a nice baseline drive on Latta’s first possession of the half and the second on a fast break started by a steal and assist from freshman point guard Brogan Cantrell at the 5:23 mark — and Johnson’s baseline jumper after he grabbed an offensive rebound with 6:56 left in the period.

Tinkler’s third layup of the half off a beautiful no-look pass from Cantrell with 4:27 remaining in the quarter answered Burnett’s fourth 3-pointer of the game 33 seconds earlier and pulled the Panthers to within 29-27.

Back-to-back layups by sophomore center Evan Anderson in a span of 38 seconds gave Dale a 33-27 lead at the 2:16 mark, though, and the Pirates carried a 33-29 lead to the fourth quarter after Latta senior Heston Bush drove the baseline for a layup off an assist from Tinkler with three-tenths of a second left in the third.

Tanner Goodwin’s 3-pointer from the corner off an inbounds play with 6:24 left answered two free throws by Johnson 10 seconds earlier and put Dale up 36-31, and the lead grew 40-33 when Burnett drained a baseline jumper (after grabbing an offensive rebound) with 3:38 to play and Goodwin hit a pullup jumper at the 2:59 mark.

A 3-pointer by freshman guard Kade Hayes with 1:39 remaining cut the Latta deficit to four, and after Dale’s Luke Degraffenreid missed the front end of a one-and-one with 47.4 seconds left, Johnson drained a long trey from the top of the key (his first field goal attempt in more than 14 minutes) to make it 40-39.

But Degraffenreid came back to make two free throws with 34.5 seconds left and start Dale’s string of six straight charity shots that finally sealed the win.

Latta turned the ball over six straight times — three on offensive fouls — to start the game, and by the time Johnson hit a spinning one-hander in the lane on the Panthers’ first shot of the night more than four minutes in, Goodwin had already hit three baskets and Burnett had drained his first 3-pointer of the night to give Dale a 9-0 lead.

Dale led 17-11 after the opening quarter and made it 19-11 on a layup by Daniel Banks 11 seconds into the second period before Johnson’s 3-pointer from the corner at the 7:10 mark and a Bush free throw 34 seconds later made it a four-point game. The Panthers didn’t score again until sophomore Jake Collins hit a trey from the top of the key with 2:29 left in the quarter, however, and the Pirates took advantage of the lull to build their biggest lead of the game at 25-15.

“We’ll get better,” Husband predicted. “The positives are we have a lot of room for improvement, but it was a little disappointing. The winning and losing part wasn’t my main concern — I wanted us to transfer what we did in practice and our scrimmages to the game, and we didn’t do that.

“It could be youth, but we’re asking some young guys to grow up fast,” he added. “Youth can be an excuse all year if you let it be, and we can’t let it be. I think we’re going to be a good basketball team. We just have to find the right combination.”

Tinkler joined Johnson in double figures with 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting, and they shared team rebounding honors with five for the Panthers. But no other player scored more than four points for Latta, which finished 14-for-37 from the field.

Burnett was 4-for-5 from beyond the arc and led Dale with 18 points in his varsity debut, and Goodwin added 12 points — six in the first quarter and five in the fourth — for the Pirates, who were a solid 16-for-35 from the field overall and 5-for-7 from long range.

GIRLS

Dale 56, Latta 46

Latta never led and trailed by as many as 12 points in a first half that ended with the hot-shooting Lady Pirates on top 33-22, and the Dale lead grew to 16 (38-22) on a 3-pointer by Katherine Weatherby and a spinning point-blank jumper by Breck Clark in the first two minutes of the third quarter.

Despite opening the second half without senior Kortney West (who scored 10 points but also picked up three fouls in the first half), the Lady Panthers scored 10 straight points in less than four minutes and cut the Dale lead to 38-32 on a pair of free throws by Teagan Tully (after she got a steal at the other end) with 3:10 left in the quarter.

But after Madison Snowden hit her second basket (and Latta’s third) in a span of just 42 seconds — a left-handed layup off a beautiful feed from Chelsea Ellenburg at the four-minute mark — the Lady Panthers went almost four minutes without another. Dale, meanwhile, scored eight of the final 10 points in the period — the last two on Randee Walck’s buzzer-beating putback of an offensive rebound — to build a 46-34 lead after three quarters, and Latta never got closer than nine in the fourth.

West, who returned to the lineup to start the final period and hit a quick basket before heading to the bench again with her fourth foul with 7:18 left, finished with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting to share game scoring honors with Walck.

Sophomore Shelby Parnacher came off the bench to score 10 points in her varsity debut and added three of Latta’s 10 steals, and Tully had eight points (all in the second half) in the loss. But Snowden, the team’s top returning scorer from last season, turned her ankle with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter (after scoring four of Latta’s 12 points in the period) and didn’t return. The Lady Panthers, who hit just 7-of-21 first-half shots, finished 16-for-43 from the field.

Walck hit all four of her shots and finished with 10 points, Kendra Steward just missed a double-double with nine points and 11 rebounds, and Weatherby added nine points for Dale, which hit 18-of-29 field goal attempts and outrebounded Latta, 23-20.

This Week's Circulars