PREP BASKETBALL: STATE CHAMPS! Cullman claims 1st state title in school history with 58-50 win over Huffman

The Cullman Bearcats defeated Huffman 58-50 Saturday to claim their first basketball state championship in school history. (Martha Needham/The Cullman Tribune)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – “There’s no other way to describe it except as a dream come true.”

Bearcat Forward Max Gambrill was nearly speechless following Cullman’s first-ever state championship win but he, along with his teammates managed to find a few words to describe the historic moment. All-State Tournament Co MVPs Tucker Cagle and Tucker Gambrill know that their team has put in the work to bring home a blue map but in the moments just after the game, they could still hardly believe what they had achieved.

“I think it’s really crazy because if you had told me at the start of the year that we were going to win a state championship, I would’ve said no way,” Cagle said. “I think just getting our bodies right in the offseason and getting stronger really helped us. We became a family, and this is just awesome for the community.”

“I just see it as a kind of reward for how hard we worked. I’m still speechless,” Gambrill said. “My last varsity basketball game is a win, so that’s pretty great.”

Garrison Sharpe was still trying to wrap his head around what just happened too but knows that he and his teammates had reached all the goals they set for themselves when this season began.

“That was our main goal. That’s what we all put in our blood, sweat and tears for,” Sharpe said. “It’s honestly making me speechless, and it hasn’t really hit me yet, but this is what we dreamed about. This is everything for us.”

Its safe to say that Bearcats Head Coach Stu Stuedeman has hit the ground running at Cullman and after the game, he was quick to pass all credit to his players for all this team has accomplished this season.

“I’m so thankful for these players, because they deserve all the credit. I’m just so happy for them that they get to experience this because they put in all the work, and they deserve all the credit,” Stuedeman said. “Way too many times in sports, the coach gets all the credit for what’s going on but it’s not the coach out there putting blood, sweat and tears into the practices and in the weight room, it’s these guys up here and the rest of those guys in the locker room. They have just believed in themselves, believed in each other, they play fearless basketball, and they keep coming at you every night. They deserve all of this because they did it, and I am so happy for them.”

Cullman led by double digits early in fourth quarter, but the Vikings managed to cut the lead to five late in the game. Following a missed free throw, Cagle pulled down a huge offensive board and reset the offense for Cullman. That play was one of the biggest for the Bearcats down the stretch and it’s a play they have been preparing to make all season.

“We coach offensive rebounds and I think we rebound better than anyone else in the state. Offensive rebounding on free throws is something we work on, and it showed up in a big moment,” Stuedeman said. “We get a big offensive rebound and it just kind of settles us and we started hitting our free throws again. I think we missed two in a row, but that offensive rebound just calmed us down. That’s what we do, the little things of the game win. There really are no little things and rebounding and free throws are some of those.”

Two quick baskets by Tucker Cagle and Garrison Sharpe gave Cullman the early, 4-0 edge but the Vikings responded 7-0 run to move ahead 7-4. Max Gambrill sank a pair of free throws to cut the lead to one and another Cagle bucket tied the game at 8 midway through the first quarter. Nate Zills then entered the game and buried a three-pointer to keep the score knotted at 11. Cagle dropped one in to retake a 13-12 lead for the ‘Cats with less than two minutes remaining in the period. Max Gambrill split a pair of free throws to trim Huffman’s lead to 15-14 with 20 seconds on the clock and he tipped one in at the buzzer to put Cullman back in front 16-15 going into the second.

Tucker Apel drilled a three and Colton Echols split a pair of free throws to make it a 20-15 game early in the second quarter. Cagle drove to the rim and scored to keep the Bearcats in front 22-17 midway through the second and Tucker Gambrill knocked down a three to make it 25-21 with two minutes to play in the opening half. The Vikings were able to get one more shot to fall before end of the second and Cullman went into the locker room wjth a 25-23 lead at the break.

Tucker Gambrill drilled a deep three early in the third quarter to stretch the lead to 28-23 and Sam Duskin scored through a foul to make it a 30-23 game. Max Gambrill netted a pair of free throws to add to the lead and midway through the third, Jamar Kay knocked down a three of his own to keep the ‘Cats in front 35-27. Kay drove to the basket and scored on the next possession to add to the lead and Cagle pulled down an offensive board and scored underneath the basket to give Cullman a 39-28 advantage. The Vikings were able to chip away a bit of the lead in the final two minutes but went into the final frame trailing the Bearcats 39-32.

Apel scored in transition to make it a 41-32 game early in the fourth quarter and Max Gambrill split a pair of free throws to put the ‘Cats up by 10. Apel sank a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 12 and Cagle split a pair of foul shots to maintain a 45-35 lead midway through the fourth. Cullman tried to eat up as much clock as possible with each possession and after a pair of Garrison Sharpe free throws, the Bearcats led 47-37 with less than three minutes to play. Apel laid in an easy basket off an inbounds play to keep Cullman in front 49-40 and Cagle added a free throw to make it a 10-point game with less than two minutes to play. The Vikings knocked down a three on the other end to cut the lead to 50-43 with just over a minute on the clock and another inside basket for Huffman made it a 5-point game but Sharpe and Gambrill each answered with a pair of free throws to build the lead back up to 54-47. Sharpe sank two more foul shots to make it a 56-47 game with 35 seconds remaining and Apel drained two more with 15 seconds on the clock to ice a 58-50 victory and Cullman’s first state title in school history.

Cagle led the Bearcats with 12 points in the win. Apel posted 11, Tucker and Max Gambrill each added eight and Sharpe finished with seven. Cagle, Tucker and Max Gambrill were earned 6A All-State Tournament honors and Tucker Gambrill and Cagle were selected as Co-MVPs.

Stuedeman is thrilled to celebrate this massive accomplishment with his team but also has his eyes on the horizon and what this day can mean for the future of Cullman Basketball.

“I’m just telling, we’re really just getting started. We’ve got a lot of younger dudes in that locker room that have played a lot of minutes and put in a lot of hard work. We have a lot of things coming back and we’re just getting started,” Stuedeman said. “It’s fantastic that we were able to do this and go on a run in year one with the program but we’re going to keep grinding and keep working. The biggest thing I learned from Bucky (McMillan) and my sisters is that when you’re at the top, it’s easy to fall down and there’s only one way to go so you have to keep working.”

Shortly after Cullman’s win, Birmingham Police investigated reports of possible shots fired in or near the arena, but BJCC security gave the all clear just minutes later, saying the sounds heard were not caused by gunfire. Tournament play then resumed with the 7A Girls Championship.

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