CULLMAN, Ala. – It’s May, which means the Cullman Bearcats are deep in the AHSAA State Baseball Playoffs chasing another state title. For the sixth straight year, the ‘Cats are in the semi-finals and this year they’ll face Hueytown (34-11) with a spot in Montgomery on the line. Cullman (26-13) swept past Albertville in round one and defeated both Pell City and Hazel Green in three games to move past the next two rounds while the Golden Gophers swept both Shades Valley and Buckhorn before defeating Gardendale in three games to earn their spot in the final four.
Cullman head coach Brent Patterson did want to understate the quality of the team the ‘Cats took down on the road last week, but he sees another great team in front of them in round four. Patterson sees a very solid team in Hueytown and knows the Bearcats will have to find a way to make the Golden Gophers uncomfortable in order to advance.
“They’re just extremely well-coached and they seem to be comfortable with who they are,” Patterson said. “They understand what it takes to win, they seem to be the kind of team that doesn’t beat themselves, they make every play, they try to pitch to keep you off-balance and basically they play the game the right way. It’s hard to get them out of their game. They’re going to make you earn everything that you get.”
Deep playoff runs are not new for Cullman baseball and for a lot of teams, the expectation going into the season is a trip to Montgomery. After knocking off Hazel Green last week, Patterson’s message to the team has been about staying focused on the task at hand and understanding the players over in Hueytown want this just as badly as they do.
“You try to flip the script on them and talk about how these kids from Hueytown have been practicing all year and it means the world to them too. They’re probably going into this with zero pressure because they understand that they’re the underdog and can just kind of let it all hang out,” Patterson said. “They’ve beaten three teams already to get to this point and you put yourselves in the shoes of Buckhorn who battled it out with Hazel Green for an area championship over there and barely got beat by a great team. They probably went into that game against Hueytown as a heavy favorite and two games later, one of them a 12-inning game, their seasons over.”
Coach Patterson has helped lead many Bearcat teams through many playoff runs over the years and says each team is a little different. Each one has to find its own best recipe for success and Patterson has seen this year’s team grow to understand exactly what it’ll take for them to win games and what everyone’s role is.
“I think very similar to what I said about Hueytown, throughout the year we kind of realized who we were,” Patterson said. “We saw what it takes for this team to win and every team is a little different. For this team to win, we’ve got to have pitches go out and command the strike zone to limit the number of free passes that we give and then defensively we’ve got to be really good. That needs to be a constant because offensively you can have good days and bad days.”
“You might hit balls right at them, you might just be off that day or you might face a dominant pitcher but defensively you better be good every day,” Patterson continued. “We’ve also had some guys just gaining more confidence for us and seeing that the roles we need them to carry out, they’re starting to get more confident in those roles and understand that they don’t have to play over their head or outside of themselves, they just have to be themselves. So, as time has gone on, I think our guys have gotten more comfortable with who they are.”
The final four is not unfamiliar territory for the Bearcats and neither is Montgomery, but they’ll need a pair of road wins over Hueytown this week if they want to take another run at a blue map. Cullman will travel to Hueytown Wednesday at 4:30 for game one followed by game two at 7:00. Game three will be Thursday if necessary.
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