Chris Pack threw his hands up in the air and let out his first big smile of the game.
Ethan Slaathaug jumped into his head coach’s arms for a huge bearhug.
Hayfield has done it.
The Vikings are the Class A boys basketball state champions.
Get the firetrucks ready because there’s going to be a party in Hayfield. The Vikings were under .500 at one point this year. They were unranked going into the state tournament after surviving the gauntlet of the Section 1A tournament.
They became the hunter. Hayfield played with a chip on its shoulder and a competitive fire that was unmatched. No one could stand in its path.
Ethan Slaathaug scored 20 points, Easton Fritcher had 13 and defensive standout Kobe Foster drained four momentum-turning 3-pointers to spark the Vikings to a 61-60 win over Hancock on Saturday.
Hancock started the game scoring on five of its first six possessions. It ended the game on a big-time run, draining deep 3-pointers and taking advantage of some missed Hayfield free throws. A Vikings’ 58-50 lead with 2:57 left was sliced to just three points (60-57) with less than a minute remaining. Hancock had good looks from 3-point range that would’ve tied the score, but Fritcher came up with the rebound of the game and knocked down the title-sealing free throw with one second left. A deep 3-pointer from Hancocks' Kody Berget splashed through the net right before the buzzer but it was harmless.
And the Hayfield celebration was on.
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Hancock’s defensive game plan was obvious from the tip.
Brandon Kellenberger is one of the best defenders in all of Class A and the 6-foot-1 senior forward was draped on Slaathaug like a chicken on a June bug. Wherever Slaathaug went, Kellenberger followed, almost like a shadow. Preston Rolloff was all over Isaac Matti while the other three defenders sagged off Ethan Pack, Fritcher and Foster, daring them to shoot. A possession where Slaathaug or Matti didn’t take the shot was viewed as a win for Hancock.
The Vikings’ supporting cast made Hancock pay. Foster confidently drilled two 3-pointers in the first eight minutes. Pack splashed a corner 3-pointer when the Owls’ defense converged on Slaathaug.
Hancock’s offense was on fire, scoring on five of the first six possessions of the game. But Fritcher, Pack and Foster combined for 11 points in a row to keep the Vikings within striking distance.
Then, Slaathaug took over. The senior had two big steals and converted in transition. He went into the body of the 6-foot-7 Thompson which took away the space that the shot-blocker needed.
Slaathaug had that look in his eye. Even though Kellenberger wasn’t giving him an inch of space, Slaathaug didn’t mind. He slithered to the rim past three defenders for a layup. He showed his full offensive arsenal with a beautiful back-cut to the basket for another easy bucket. Then, the midrange fall-away jumper and a deep 3-pointer in Kellenberger’s eye gave Hayfield all the momentum.
An Easton Fritcher 3-pointer late in the first half gave Hayfield a 39-31 lead at the break. Hancock rallied in the second half with a 12-4 run to cut the deficit to 49-46, but Hayfield wasn’t going to be denied.
Whenever the Owls punched, Hayfield punched back harder. Thompson had his way with the Vikings throughout the first half. The big man was excellent and his personal 6-0 run gave Hancock life in the second half. But Fritcher stepped up in a magnificent way. Even though he was seven inches shorter than Thompson, he held the Hancock star scoreless for the final 12:19 of the game.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Hayfield bench erupted. The Vikings had been connected all year long. They bought into their roles. They played hard and they celebrated hard. They pointed up into the Target Center seats at their adoring fans and the smiles from ear-to-ear were unmatched.
The Vikings are champions.
CLASS A CHAMPIONSHIP
Hayfield 61, Hancock 60
Ethan Pack 9 P, 2 3-PT; Ethan Slaathaug 20 P, 1 3-PT; Easton Fritcher 13 P, 7 R; Isaac Matti 7 P, 1 3-PT; Kobe Foster 12 P, 4 3-PT.
Kody Berget 6 P, 2 3-PT; Brandon Kellenberger `0 P, 1 3-PT; Preston Rohloff 4 P, 8 A; Adam Shaw 5 P, 1 3-PT; Matt Thompson 18 P, 4 3-PT; Luke Joos 4 P; Sebastian Felix 13 P, 3 3-PT.
Halftime: HAY 39, HAN 31
Free throws: HAY 5-10, HAN 2-4
Three-point goals: HAY 8, HAN 10