For the second consecutive year, the Longhorns are the bridesmaids of the Class 3A Arizona State Basketball Tournament.
Last season, Payson fell to two-time defending state champion Fountain Hills in the gold medal finale. Last evening, Saturday, in the title game played at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, the Horns (24-7) lost 64-51 to talent-laden Estrella Foothills (31-2).
Payson, however, might have been celebrating the school's first state basketball championship since 1979 had the team not been ticketed for a whopping 44 free throw attempts. The Wolves, champions of the West division, cashed in on 32 of the free shots. Senior guard Brandon Hawkins, son of former NBA player Hersey Hawkins, was 22 of 26 from the line.
As tough as the loss was to absorb, it marked a moral victory of sorts. Before the state title game, no Class 3A team had come with in 28 points of high-powered Estrella. Also, in an earlier regular season match up between the two state finalists, the Wolves hammered Payson 73-45.
In the loss, first year coach Kenny Hayes bemoaned the team's inability to score when breaking Estrella's vaunted full court press.
"If we made those layups and our free throws, we had a chance to win," Hayes said.
At the line, Payson was 16 of 31.