PREP BASKETBALL: Cullman takes 72-70 4OT thriller at Hartselle to claim area title

The Cullman Bearcats defeated Hartselle 72-70 in 4OT Thursday night to win this year’s 6A, Area 14 Championship. (Nick Griffin/The Cullman Tribune)

HARTSELLE, Ala. — After defeating Decatur in the opening round of 6A, Area 14 Tournament Monday night, the Bearcats returned to Hartselle High School Thursday night to face the Tigers in the area title game and it took all night for these two rivals to battle it out. It took four quarters and additional four overtimes for the Bearcats and the Tigers to settle things but at the end of the marathon, it was Cullman standing out in front with a 72-70 win and the area championship.

Not many teams go into a game expecting to play 48 minutes but Bearcats Head Coach Stu Stuedeman credits their strength and conditioning program as well as the will of his kids for the big road win. 

“What we do in the fall. Our strength and conditioning, what we do on the track and how hard we practice. Our strength and conditioning coach Josh Marshall is the best in the country and our kids really buy in to what we do in the fall,” Stuedeman said. “Then they buy into how we practice. We had hard practices on Tuesday and Wednesday because we get after it. That’s just how we do it in our program and our kids are amazing. They’re champions.”

Baskets by Jake Dorough and Garrison Sharpe gave the ‘Cats an early, 4-0 lead and three-pointers from Tucker Cagle and Kase Nixon made it a 10-2 game. Nate Zills drained a pair of free throws midway through the first to keep Cullman in front 12-4 and back to back threes from Cagle and Sharpe stretched the lead to 18-9 late in the opening period. Cagle split a pair of free throws and Sam Duskin laid one in with 20 seconds on the clock to give the Bearcats a 21-15 lead going into the second quarter.

Landon Tweedie score inside to add to the lead early in the second and after splitting a pair of free throws, Nixon laid one in to keep Cullman ahead 26-18. Cagle pulled down an offensive rebound and put it back in for a score to make it a 28-20 game midway through the period and Sharpe scored off a turnover to make it 30-20 with three minutes remaining in the half. Hartselle was able to trim the lead to four in the final minute of the quarter but Sharpe found Evan Wilson under the basket for an easy bucket just before the half to give the ‘Cats a 32-26 advantage at the break. 

A pair of Cagle baskets stretched the lead to 36-28 early in the third quarter and after Zills sank a pair of free throws, Sharpe knocked down another three to make it a 41-28 game. Sharpe’s next basket made it 43-29 and after the Tigers cut into the lead with a late scoring run, Cagle scored inside in the final seconds of the third to give Cullman a 46-37 lead going into the final frame. 

Another score from Cagle put the Bearcats in front 48-42 at the start of the fourth but Hartselle responded and trimmed the lead down to 48-47. Zills laid one in to make it a 50-47 game but a basket from the Tigers on the other end cut the lead to 50-49. Cagle pulled down a huge offensive board off his own missed free throw but had to be treated for a cut for on the sideline so Tweedie came in and buried both foul shots to put the ‘Cats ahead 52-49 with less than three minutes to play. Zills and Cagle each split a pair of free throws later in the quarter to extend the lead to 54-50 but the Tigers answered with a massive three on the other end to make it a 54-53 game with just over a minute on the clock. Duskin sank a free throw with 38 seconds remaining in regulation to make it a 2-point game but coming out of its final timeout, Hartselle drove to the basket and scored to tie the game at 55 and send the area championship game into overtime.

The Tigers knocked down a jumper early in the overtime period to take their first lead of the night at 57-55. Nixon took a steal the other way for a layup with just over a minute on the clock to tie things up at 57 but a pair of free throws on the other end gave Hartselle a 59-57 lead with less than a minute to play. However, Cagle drove to the basket and drew a foul to get back to the free throw line and he knocked down both shots to tie the game at 59 with 46 seconds remaining. Both defenses held up on the next two possessions and neither team could break the tie, sending us to double overtime knotted at 59.

Wilson scored inside to put the Bearcats ahead 61-60 early in the period and Cagle added a free throw to make it a 2-point game with two minutes remaining. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, the Tigers were able to answer once again, and dropped one in with nine seconds on the clock to tie the game at 62 and send the game to a third overtime.

A pair of Cagle baskets kept Cullman in front 66-65 with just over a minute to play in triple OT and Wilson and Sharpe each added free throws to make it a 3-point game but Hartselle drilled a three at the buzzer to keep the score tied at 68 and send us to overtime number four.

A quick bucket from Duskin gave the ‘Cats a 70-68 lead early in the fourth overtime period and Dorough laid one in to stretch the lead to four. A pair of Tiger free throws trimmed the lead to 72-70 with 45 seconds on the clock but Hartselle was unable to come up with any more overtime heroics and Cullman’s defense held firm to secure a 72-70 win that will be remembered for a long time.

Cagle led the way for Cullman with 27 points in the win and Stuedeman was proud of the way he fought down the stretch. 

“He’s just the heart and soul. He’s not the greatest basketball player in the world but he just never quits. I love that kid. I love him,” Stuedeman said. “You’ll watch the tape and there might be a million things he does wrong but when it’s time to win, he makes the plays. He’s a winner, I love him.”

Sharpe finished with 13 points in the win and Zills and Nixon each added eight.

The Bearcats will be back home next week to host a sub-regional matchup against Clay-Chalkville.

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