HANCEVILLE, Ala. – The Bearcats returned to Wallace State’s Tom Drake Coliseum Friday to face Buckhorn in this year’s Northwest Regional semifinal and the defending 6A State Champions had their hands full with the Bucks. The ‘Cats trailed 26-21 at the half and trimmed the lead to two at one point in the third but couldn’t keep pace with Buckhorn down the stretch and Cullman’s postseason run ended with a 64-44 loss in the Sweet 16.
Bearcats Head Coach Stu Stuedeman knows the season didn’t end the way he or his team would’ve liked but he wants to make sure this team and its seniors are remembered and celebrated for what they’ve done.
“I’m so proud of our team and our program for what they’ve accomplished. We won 26 games this year, the third-most in school history, we won the area championship and made it back to the Sweet 16. So, following up a state championship season, these guys have really made their mark on this program and the community of Cullman, and they should be celebrated,” Stuedeman said. “I know we didn’t get it done today, but they should be celebrated for the history that they’ve made and what they’ve brought to their community, their school and this basketball program. I’m really upset, not because we lost, but because I don’t get to coach these guys anymore.”
Senior Forward Tucker Cagle is grateful for his time playing for the Bearcats and he’s grateful for the relationship he’s built with his head coach in that time too.
“That’s my best friend right there,” Cagle said. “It’s been a fantastic two years playing for this team and this community. What we did last year, and this year means a lot, but I think the lives we touched means more than anything. Giving people hope that things like this can be done. It always hurts when you put so much into something you love and it’s going to be hard to put away this jersey and these shoes, but these memories are going to last a lifetime.”
Senior Guard Garrison Sharpe echoed some of Cagle’s sentiments, thanking his coaches and teammates for helping make his time at Cullman special.
“You can’t put into words what Coach Stu means to us and this team and what all he’s done for us,” Sharpe said. “I’m going to miss coming to the locker room every day and getting ready for practice or film or weights. It just means so much to us and we’re sad to have it end like this but I’m grateful for the past two years, it’s been a blessing.”
Sam Duskin scored in transition to give the Bearcats a 2-0 start and after Buckhorn responded on the other end, Garrison Sharpe laid one in to tie the game at 4. A 5-0 run by the Bucks made it a 9-4 game but Tucker Cagle scored inside to trim the lead to 9-6. However, Buckhorn closed out the opening period with another 5-0 run to build a 14-6 lead going into the second.
Baskets by Colton Echols and Cagle held the Bucks lead to 19-10 early in the second quarter and that’s when the ‘Cats were able to chip away. Jake Dorough scored inside to make it a 19-12 game and followed it with a three-pointer on the next possession to make it 19-15. Cagle drilled a three of his own to make it a 1-point game with just over three minutes remaining in the first half but another scoring run from Buckhorn put Cullman behind 26-18 with one minute on the clock. The Bearcats were able to get a few more points on the board when Echols buried a three from the left corner with 20 seconds remaining and the ‘Cats went into the locker room trailing 26-21 at the break.
Sharpe knocked down a three to cut the lead to 26-24 at the start of the third quarter and after a 5-0 response from the Bucks, Landon Tweedie laid one in to make it a 31-26 game. Sharpe split a pair of free throws to make it a 4-point game with five minutes to play in third but Buckhorn continued to answer Cullman’s baskets on the other end and pulled ahead 38-29 with a little over a minute remaining in the period. Zills scored inside with less than a minute on the clock but the Bucks drained a pair of three-pointers in the final 20 seconds of the quarter to take a 48-31 lead into the final frame.
Duskin and Sharpe buried back to back three-pointers to start the fourth quarter and trim the lead to 48-37 but Buckhorn was able to move ahead 54-37 with just over five minutes to play. Another Cagle basket made it a 54-39 game midway through the fourth quarter, but the Bearcats couldn’t close the gap any more that and the Bucks were able to pull away with a 64-44 win.
Cagle led the way for Cullman with 11 points in the loss. Sharpe finished with nine, Duskin scored eight and Dorough added seven.
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