HANCEVILLE, Ala. – It’s been nearly a century since their last trip, but after pulling away to beat Scottsboro 75-58 in Tuesday’s Northwest Regional Finals, the Cullman Bearcats are headed to the Final 4. The Wildcats led by five at halftime, but the depth and pace of Cullman wore them down in the second half and the ‘Cats were able to pull away.
Bearcats Head Coach Stu Stuedeman is still just in his first season at Cullman but he’s already celebrating a historic win for the program. As happy as he is for the entire Cullman community, he’s most excited for his players who have worked all year to earn this opportunity.
“Lets party like its 1932,” Stuedeman said. “This has been 90 years in the making and this is so amazing for Cullman High School, the City of Cullman and everyone involved with Cullman athletics but most importantly for our kids. They deserve it. No one has worked harder than them all year and they have just poured into each other and become a family. I’m so happy for them because that’s what its all about, hard work coming to fruition.”
Scottsboro came out hot in the first half and made a lot of shots early on, but Stuedeman and his guys stuck with the game plan they’ve stuck with all season and continued to chip away at the lead, and legs, of the Wildcats.
“I thought the game was an absolute war but like we have all year, we found a way. We figured it out on offense in the second half and we just kept chopping the leg, chopping the leg and guarded and rebounded like we’ve done all year and we were able to outlast them and finish it off.”
Max Gambrill has played some of his best basketball of the year in the last few games and after being named this year’s 6A Northwest Regional MVP, he wanted to take a minute after the game to brag on his coach.
“It feels amazing. If you had told me five years ago that we would be in the Final 4 I would’ve laughed at you,” Gambrill said. “I just want to brag on Coach. He always brags about us for how hard we work but this guy is up every night just working on his craft and pushing us.”
Tucker Gambrill, who also earned All-Tournament honors, remembers watching the Bearcats make an Elite 8 run back in 2015 and he’s thrilled now that he and his teammates have helped lead the program one step further.
“At the beginning of the year when Coach Stu first got here, he made a promise to us that he was going to push and regardless of the results, he was going to be proud of us,’ Gambrill said. “It’s been 90 years, but it feels a lot longer. I think we 2015 was the last time we were in the Elite 8 and me and Max both looked up to those guys on that team. So, for us to finally surpass what they accomplished feels pretty great.”
A quick basket from Tucker Apel and an-one play by Tucker Cagle gave the ‘Cats an early, 5-3 lead but the Wildcats responded with an 8-0 scoring run to take an 11-5 lead midway through the opening period. Another Cagle basket and a three-pointer from Max Gambrill cut the lead to 14-10 later in the quarter. Apel and Garrison Sharpe each sank a pair of free throws to make it a 17-14 game and Max Gambrill added two more makes from the line before the end of the first to trim the lead to 17-16 at the start of the second.
Sam Duskin netted a pair of free throws and scored on the next possession to hold the Scottsboro lead to 24-20 early in the second quarter and baskets by Cagle and Max Gambrill made it a 29-25 game midway through the period. The Wildcats continued to score on the other end but nother bucket from Max Gambrill and a three-pointer by Sharpe held the lead to 35-30 with just over a minute remaining in the half. Apel laid one with just over 30 seconds on the clock to put two more points on the board and the Bearcats went into the locker room trailing 37-32 at the break.
Cullman found is rhythm on the offensive end in the third quarter, starting with baskets from Tucker and Max Gambrill that cut the lead to 40-37. Then Duskin knotted things up at 40 with a three-pointer and laid one in on the next possession to the ‘Cats a 2-point lead midway through the third. Max Gambrill drilled another three to keep Cullman in front 45-44 and Cagle knocked down a trey to make it a 48-46 game with two minutes to play in the period. That’s when the Bearcats really began to create separation. After Colton Echols split a pair of free throws, Apel scored the next five points of the game to put the Bearcats in front 54-46 and in the final seconds of the quarter, Tucker Gambrill buried a three from the top of the key to give the ‘Cats a 57-48 advantage going into the fourth.
After splitting a pair of free throws, Cagle finished an and-one play at the line to make it a 61-53 game early in the fourth quarter. Another Cagle bucket, followed by a couple free throws from Tucker Gambrill, kept Cullman ahead 66-56 with just over two minutes on the clock and Jamar Kay drained a three from the left wing to put the Bearcats in front 69-58 and put the nail in the coffin. Sharpe and Gambrill finished things off at the free throw line in the final minute to officially put the game away and the Bearcats punched their ticket to the Final 4 with a historic, 75-58 win over the Wildcats.
Max Gambrill led Cullman with 18 points in the win and he pulled down eight rebounds as well. Cagle posted a double-double performance with 14 points and 11 boards. Apel posted 11 points for the Bearcats and Sharpe, Duskin and Tucker Gambrill each finished with nine.
The ‘Cats (27-3) will continue their postseason run in the Final 4 next Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. when they hit the court at Legacy Arena in Birmingham to take on Park Crossing.
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