SPORTS COLUMN: Looking back at some of the best games of 2021

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(Martha Needham/The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. — 2021 featured more than a handful of thrilling high school sports matchups that had us all on the edge of our seats. From walk-offs to overtime thrillers, here are the best games that I covered during the year 2021.

Jan. 15 – Good Hope at Oneonta (Boys Basketball)

Good Hope traveled to Oneonta to take on the Redskins in a huge region game. Early on, though, it was Oneonta who would get to a fast start, jumping out to a quick 11-0 lead. The Raiders would cut the deficit to just six at 15-9 after the first quarter and after the Redskins pushed their lead up to 12 late in the second quarter, a huge three-point play by Tanner Malin helped cut the Oneonta lead to 31-24 at the half. The third quarter was all Good Hope as they outscored the Redskins, 16-7, to take a 40-38 lead into the final period.

The Raiders increased their lead to 47-41 early in the fourth quarter, but a Redskin trey trimmed Good Hope’s lead to 51-50 with only a minute to go in the game. Lawton Farr, though, drilled the biggest three of the game as that helped give the Raiders a 54-50 lead with 49 seconds left in the contest. Oneonta made it a 55-52 game after a pair of free throws, but Malin nailed a pair of his own from the line to help seal the 57-52 win for Good Hope.

March 12 – Fairview v. Hanceville (Baseball)

Fairview hosted Hanceville in a doubleheader on March 12th in what could only best described as thrillers at the least. In game one, a five-run second inning by the Aggies helped increase their early 2-1 lead to 7-1, but the Bulldogs battled back in the top of the third inning as a Fairview error, plus a two-run single by Dylan Twilley and an RBI single by Zach Campbell, made it a 7-6 game. Fairview got a sacrifice fly from Lucas West in the bottom of the fourth and an RBI groundout by Dalton Payne in the fifth to push their lead to 9-6, but Hanceville wasn’t done yet.

Another Aggie error helped the Bulldogs cut Fairview’s lead to 9-7, then an RBI double by Adam Cooper and an RBI fielder’s choice by Barrett Hardin tied the game up at nine. The Aggies, though, had a chance to win it in their final at-bats. Payne hit a one-run double and with two outs, Tanner Bennett lined an RBI single to right field to help give Fairview a 10-9 win in game one.

Game two provided a lot of fireworks and then some. Fairview led 6-3 going into the top of the third inning, but Hanceville went off in the top of the third inning as they scored nine runs, with two of the biggest hits coming from Hardin (two-run single) and Bo Joles (two-run double). The Bulldogs made it 13-6 on a Cooper sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth, but the fun was just starting as the Aggies scored seven runs in their half on just one hit and a wild pitch with two outs tied things up at 13. Fairview broke the tie in the bottom of the fourth inning on a Caden Jennings RBI single and later on in the inning, a suicide squeeze play brought home two more runs as the Aggies grabbed a 17-13 lead.

But once again, the Bulldogs came back as they tied the game up at 17 in the top of the seventh on a two-run double by Cooper. Fairview had a chance to win it in their final at-bats for the second time today. Gannon Black drew a leadoff walk and Crimson Wright promptly ended the game with an RBI double to give the Aggies an 18-17 win.

April 22 – West Point v. Jasper (Softball)

West Point hosted Jasper on Senior Night and the Lady Warrior fans saw a pitching performance of a lifetime from Carlie Wilkins in what ended up being a low-scoring affair between the Lady Vikings and the Lady Warriors. Wilkins retired the side in order to start out the game and Lexi Shadix crushed the first pitch she saw over the center field wall to give West Point a 1-0 lead. Wilkins had her strikeout pitches working in this contest as she struck out the last two batters in the top of the second and struck out the side in the next three innings.

She added three more strikeouts in the top of the sixth inning, but the Lady Warriors were unable to add on to their lead as they went into the top of the seventh inning with a 1-0 lead. Wilkins got a strikeout to start out the seventh inning, but she hit the next batter. She quickly bounced back to get the final two outs of the game as she finished with a complete game no-hitter and an amazing 17 strikeouts in the Lady Warriors’ 1-0 win over Jasper.

May 3 – Holly Pond v. J.B. Pennington (Softball)

Holly Pond hosted their area softball tournament and took on J.B. Pennington to kick things off. Both teams struggled to put runs on the scoreboard despite getting some runners on base, but the fourth inning saw the Lady Tigers score the first two runs of the game on a passed ball and a suicide squeeze play. The Lady Broncos got their offense going in the bottom of the fifth inning. Rebecca Bell hit a leadoff single and one out later, Samantha Giles reached on a bunt single. They both ended up scoring on back-to-back Pennington errors, then another error allowed Bai Widner to cross the plate and that gave Holly Pond a 3-2 lead.

They were just getting started, though, as Audrey Armstrong scored on a wild pitch, then Madyson Rickman and Taylor Simmons hit back-to-back RBI doubles to help push the Lady Bronco lead to 6-2. But the Lady Tigers made it a one-run game in the top of the sixth inning. Giles scored in the bottom of the sixth inning on yet another Pennington error and later held off another comeback attempt from the Lady Tigers to win, 7-6.

Oct. 8 – Arab v. Oxford (Football)

Arab went into their October 8th game against Oxford with a five-game winning streak and looked to make it six with a win on Friday night. The Knights’ Gavin Currier drilled a 28-yard field goal to give them an early 3-0 lead. Arab recovered the kickoff at the 32-yard line and Ed Johnson ended up finding Wes Johnson for a 32-yard score to push their lead to 10-0. The Knights added to their lead in the second quarter as Ed Johnson found Wes Johnson on the right side; he dodged some tacklers before taking it to the house as his 49-yard score made it 17-0. The Yellow Jackets found the end zone late in the first half on a 14-yard touchdown pass and after picking off Ed Johnson, added a field goal before the half to make it a 17-10 game going into the locker room.

Oxford tied the game up at 17 on a one-yard touchdown run, and both teams were unable to break the tie as the third quarter ended with both teams tied up at 17, helping set the stage for an amazing final period. The Knights got the ball at the 16-yard line, and it was a very heavy dose of Ed Johnson during the drive as he picked up four huge first downs during the series. The Yellow Jackets helped out during that drive as well as a huge holding call put Arab at the 14-yard line. A few plays later, Johnson finished off on what was an amazing 22-play, 86-yard drive with a one-yard run to give the Knights a 24-17 lead with less than three minutes to go in the game.

But Oxford found the end zone on a five-yard run but were unable to get the two-point conversion, as the Knights held onto a 24-23 lead with less than two minutes to go in the game. Arab looked to end the game on its next possession but were unable to as they were forced to punt. The Knight defense looked to make a huge stop on its final series of the contest, but a bad face mask penalty got things off to a rocky start for Arab as the Yellow Jackets quickly moved the ball down the field and found themselves at the 20-yard line. Oxford was setting up for a game-winning 37-yard field goal and ended up hitting it as the Knights fell in a heartbreaking defeat to the Yellow Jackets, 26-24.

Nov. 16 – Hanceville v. Cold Springs (Boys Basketball)

Cold Springs traveled to Hanceville to take on the Bulldogs in a huge county matchup. A huge 12-0 run by the Eagles gave them an early 12-5 lead and they would go into the second quarter up, 16-7. Hanceville trimmed Cold Springs’ lead to 18-12, but another huge Eagle run helped push their lead to 29-14 and they would go into the half up by a score of 29-16.

Cold Springs kept the pressure on Hanceville in the second half as they held a 40-22 lead after a pair of Brody Peppers free throws. The Bulldogs looked to trim into the deficit, and they did just that as a Noah Jones trey and a Carson Garrett free throw made it a 40-26 game going into the final period.

The Eagles, though, pushed their lead up to 44-28 early in the final quarter. But Hanceville went on a furious rally to get back in the game and it was led by junior Brayden Harris as he scored six straight points to trim the deficit to just 10 at 44-34. Jones then drilled three free throws to make it a seven-point game. Later on in the fourth quarter, a layup by Zach Campbell and a huge three by Braxton Broad made it a 45-42 game with a little over a minute to go in the contest. Tanner Kilgo and Peppers each a split from the line to make it a five-point game, but Harris drilled a pair from the line to cut the Eagle lead to 47-44. Hanceville forced a turnover and looked to send the game into overtime, but Campbell’s three got blocked and Cold Springs ended up holding off the Bulldogs at the end, 47-44.

Nov. 29 – West Point v. Deshler (Boys Basketball)

West Point hosted Deshler in a huge varsity matchup for the Warriors. It was close for much of the first quarter as West Point was down 14-10 after a Sam Wheeler layup, but a huge run by the Tigers saw them push their lead to 21-12 after one period. The Warriors trimmed the deficit to just four at 23-19 early in the second period, but Deshler quickly made it a 31-21 game. An Andrew Lynn trey made it a 33-29 contest and the Tigers hit one of their own to end the first half as West Point found themselves down by seven at the half.

Back-to-back threes from Cade Simmons and Jay Lamar cut the Deshler lead to 39-35, but once again, the Tigers went on a huge run to help push their lead to 49-35. The Warriors finished the third quarter strong as Kolten Perry, Lynn, and Jayden Laney scored the final 12 West Point points to help swivel the deficit to just six at 53-47 going into the final period.

A three-point play by Deshler made it a 58-47 game. West Point was struggling to score points in the final quarter, but a Lynn trey with 3:27 remaining made it an eight-point contest. Huge threes by Lamar and Lynn sandwiched around a Perry layup cut the Warrior deficit to just three at 61-58 with only 25 seconds left to go in the game. A pair of Tiger free throws made it 63-58 with 17 seconds left and the ending was nothing short of a little crazy. Wheeler got fouled while shooting a three with just two seconds remaining. He hit the first two, then he intentionally missed the third and got his own rebound, but a bad pass quickly ended the game as the Warriors fell just three points short, 63-60.

Dec. 7 – Fairview v. Guntersville (Girls Basketball)

Tuesday, December 7th, saw the Fairview Lady Aggies take on the Guntersville Lady Aggies in Fairview’s area opener at home. The Lady Aggies jumped out to a quick 9-4 lead and later pushed it to 13-6 after back-to-back baskets down low by Jayla Gorham and Kabri Redding. Fairview would go into the second quarter with a 13-8 lead. But a huge run by the Lady Wildcats gave them a 17-15 lead almost halfway through the second period. A Sadie Smith gave Fairview an 18-17 lead, but Guntersville got the lead right back on a layup and the Lady Aggies found themselves down by one at the half.

 The third quarter belonged to Fairview’s Emma Garcia as she scored all seven of their points in the period. Her three gave the Lady Aggies a 25-22 lead late in the quarter, but the Lady Wildcats tied it up at 25 and both teams would go into the final quarter tied at 25. Guntersville went on an 8-3 run to start off the final period as that helped them take a 33-28 lead. Both teams traded baskets for several possessions before a huge three-point play by Morgan Lindsay made it a 37-35 game with a little over three minutes to go in the game. Layups by Gorham and Lindsay tied the game up at 39 and the game would go into overtime with the score still tied at 39.

A huge shot by Garcia gave the Lady Aggies a 43-41 lead. With the game tied up at 46, Guntersville hit a layup to break that tie and give them a two-point lead with less than a minute to go in overtime. Lindsay split her free throws to make it a one-point game with 45 seconds left and later got fouled with two seconds left as she looked to give Fairview a huge win at home. She would do just that as she hit both of her free throws and the Lady Aggies picked up a huge 49-48 win in overtime.

Dec. 10 – West Point v. Fairview (Girls Basketball)

Fairview traveled to West Point to take on the Lady Warriors in what ended up being a wild back-and-forth low-scoring affair. The first quarter saw both defenses allow just two made baskets combined as Fairview held a 5-2 lead after the first period. The Lady Warriors slowly started to get their offense going in the second period as back-to-back layups by Braelee Quinn gave them a 7-5 lead, but the Lady Aggies countered with seven straight points to give them the lead right back at 11-7. West Point finished the first half strong as a pair of free throws by Ryleigh Jones and back-to-back treys from Quinn would give them an 18-14 advantage at the half.

Baskets from Morgan Lindsay and Sadie Smith gave Fairview a 25-20 lead. But behind nine straight points from Jones, West Point ended up tying the game up at 29 and that would be the score going into the fourth quarter. The Lady Warriors got a three from Quinn that gave them a 37-32 lead with a little over two minutes to go in the contest, but a pair of Jayla Gorham free throws made it a three-point contest. With West Point clinging to a 39-36 lead, the Lady Aggies needed a three to send the game into overtime. Emma Garcia happily obliged as she nailed one right before the buzzer sounded to tie the game at 39 and send it into overtime.

In the first overtime, each team hit three free throws to keep the game up at 42. Lindsay had a chance to win the game, but her shot bounced off the rim and the game would go into a second overtime. A Quinn trey gave West Point a 45-42 lead, but Smith hit a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game with less than two minutes to go in double overtime. For the second straight overtime, the Lady Aggies looked to get a huge win on the road, but Summer Mendoza made sure that it didn’t happen as she ended up getting a huge steal to help seal the Lady Warriors’ 45-44 win at home.

Dec. 14 – Hanceville v. Oneonta (Boys Basketball)

Hanceville hosted Oneonta in an enormous area game and the Bulldogs would like nothing better than to shock the Redskins at home. Oneonta held onto a 10-6 lead in the first quarter, but Hanceville got baskets from Will Calvert and Noah Jones to tie the game up at 10. Zach Campbell gave the Bulldogs a huge boost going into the second period as he scored six straight points, including a layup just before the buzzer, to give them a 16-10 lead after one.

Five straight points from the Redskins made it a one-point game to start out the second period, but Hanceville quickly pushed their lead back up to six at 21-15 behind a Carson Garrett layup and a Jones trey. A huge run by Oneonta gave them a 23-21 lead and they later pushed their lead to 26-23, but this time, it would be Brayden Harris that finished the quarter strong as he hit a couple of big baskets down low to give the Bulldogs a 27-26 lead at the half.

A Calvert trey made it 30-26 to start out the second half, but another big run by the Redskins gave them a 38-32 lead with a little over five minutes to go in the third period. Back-to-back baskets by Campbell and a trey from Braxton Broad gave Hanceville a 39-38 lead, but the Redskins nailed one from long-range to give them a 41-39 lead going into the fourth quarter and what a quarter it ended up being.

The Redskins held a 50-45 lead late in the fourth period, but a huge three-point play from Harris made it a two-point game with 1:45 remaining in the game. Later on, Campbell got a huge steal and found Calvert for a huge layup as that tied the game up at 50. Calvert’s three-point play gave Hanceville a 53-52 lead, but Oneonta converted on one of their own to give them a two-point lead. A huge layup by Campbell tied the game up at 55 and this huge region game was going to be decided into overtime.

A pair of Campbell free throws gave Hanceville a 60-57 lead, but the Redskins scored the next four points to get the lead right back at 61-60. Later on, Campbell hit two more from the line to tie the game up at 62. Then came the two biggest plays of the game. Harris forced a huge Oneonta turnover on their end of the floor and that gave the Bulldogs a chance to win it on their final possession. Campbell drove down the middle of the lane and ended up finding Broad for an enormous layup that gave Hanceville a 64-62 lead with eight seconds remaining in overtime. The Redskins’ final shot was off the mark and the Hanceville Bulldogs ended up getting a huge win at home as they defeated the Oneonta Redskins in overtime, 64-62.

Dec. 17 – Cold Springs v. Fairview (Boys Basketball)

Fans from both sides saw a really good varsity boys’ game between the Fairview Aggies and the Cold Springs Eagles on December 17th. The first quarter saw both defenses show out as the quarter ended with the score tied up at seven. The Aggies held onto a 12-10 lead with a little over three minutes to go in the first half. Layups by Brody Peppers and Tanner Kilgo gave Cold Springs a 14-12 lead, but Fairview got some huge baskets before the half as Ethan Fraiser tied it up at 14. Then, Parker Martin got a huge steal and got fouled after making the basket. He finished off the three-point play to help give the Aggies a 17-14 lead at the half.

Back-to-back layups by Kobe Payne and Landon Tweedie pushed Fairview’s lead to 21-16 to start out the third period. Later on, a Payne trey made it a 24-18 game and a Martin made basket kept the Aggie lead at six at 26-20, but back-to-back layups from Peppers made it a two-point game going into the final period. Cody Bales drilled a shot from long range to give the Eagles a 27-26 lead. Kilgo got a huge block on one end and then hit a layup to make it a three-point game. Tweedie tied the game up at 29 on a trey and it was still tied at 33 after a Cylas Yarbrough layup. Neither team could convert on their opportunities to try and win the game, and this big county game would be settled in overtime.

Each team hit a basket to keep the game tied at 35, but a tough basket down by Fraiser gave the Aggies a 37-35 lead. Payne and Tweedie would each hit a pair from the line to help seal the 41-35 overtime win for Fairview.

Dec. 23 – Cold Springs v. Jasper (Girls Basketball)

Cold Springs took on a very good Jasper team at home and it would take a great effort on both sides of the ball to come away with a win. An Ella Bruer trey gave the Lady Eagles a 5-2 lead. With three minutes to go in the first quarter, Kenady Graves hit one of her own from long range and later added a free throw to help stretch Cold Springs’ lead to 9-3. The Lady Vikings hit back-to-back shots to trim the Lady Eagle lead to 9-7 and the Lady Eagles would go into the second quarter with the two-point lead.

Jasper tied the game up at nine to start out the second period, but another Bruer three and a Malaya Taylor layup gave Cold Springs a 14-9 lead. The Lady Vikings, though, scored the final seven points of the first half as the Lady Eagles quickly found themselves down, 16-14, at the half. Jasper held onto a slim 20-19 lead with less than five minutes to go in the third period. Then a technical foul was called on a Lady Viking player and Bruer split a pair from the line to tie the game up at 20. That would be a start of a huge run for Cold Springs as Ciara Calvert drilled a shot from deep, then Taylor and Calvert added a basket down low. Bruer hit a pair from the line and Taylor added another basket down low as the Lady Eagles would go into the final period with a 31-20 lead.

Cold Springs was up 34-23 in the fourth quarter after a Bruer free throw, but Jasper staged a furious rally to get back in the game as they went on an 11-2 run to help trim the Lady Eagle lead to just two at 36-34 with less than three minutes to go in the game. Bruer and Mia Light each hit a pair from the line to push Cold Springs’ lead up to six at 40-34. A Lady Viking trey made it a three-point game, but Graves and Bruer hit a combined three free throws as the Lady Eagles ended up picking up a huge 43-37 win over Jasper.

Dec. 28 – West Point v. Falkville (Boys Basketball)

West Point faced off against Falkville in the semi-finals of the West Point Christmas Classic. The Blue Devils jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead, but Kanen Trussell scored back-to-back baskets down low to make it a one-point game early in the first quarter. Trussell later added another basket down low, and Andrew Lynn hit a trey to give the Warriors a 9-8 lead. Falkville, though, scored the final five points of the first quarter as West Point went into the second quarter down, 13-9.

Layups by Sam Wheeler and Ashton Rodgers tied the game up at 13. Falkville ended up breaking a 15-all tie with back-to-back treys to help them give them a 21-15 lead. The Warriors trimmed the deficit to just one after a pair of Rodgers free throws and another Lynn trey, but an 8-0 run by the Blue Devils pushed their lead to 29-20 and they would take a 29-21 lead into the locker room.

A Jay Lamar trey made it a 34-27 game with a little over five minutes to go in the third period. A Wheeler driving layup and a Lynn three trimmed the deficit to just four at 36-32 with a little over three minutes to go in the third quarter. Falkville pushed their lead to 41-36 late in the third period, but Lynn hit a huge three just before the buzzer to swivel the West Point deficit to just two at 41-39. Wheeler hit a layup and Rodgers drilled a trey to give the Warriors a 44-43 early in the final period. West Point pushed their lead to 49-45 on another layup by Wheeler, but the Blue Devils drilled back-to-back threes to give them a 51-49 lead with 3:30 remaining in the contest. Falkville held a 55-51 lead with a little over two minutes to go in the game, but Wheeler hit a pair of huge threes to put the Warriors on top, 57-55, with a little over a minute left. Lynn would later seal the deal with a pair of free throws as the Warriors picked up a 59-55 win over Falkville.

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