PREP SPORTS: A look back at some of the best games of 2023

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Fairview’s Jake Harper (14) fights for yardage in the Aggies’ 14-7 win over Lawrence County this season. (Mike Witcher/The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. — 2023 saw more than its fair share of amazing games and fantastic finishes. Here’s my list of the best games that I covered last year.

Hanceville vs. Etowah (Basketball – Jan. 10)

Hanceville took on Etowah in a huge region game at home. The Bulldogs got off to a fast start to the game, jumping out to a quick 9-0 lead, and later on, a Zach Campbell trey pushed their lead to 21-8. A basket by Will Calvert and an and-one by Campbell gave Hanceville a 26-12 lead going into the second period. Five straight points by Brayden Harris gave the Bulldogs a 33-18 lead and later pushed their lead to 37-20. A late run by Etowah, though, cut it to 43-35. Layups by Campbell and Braxton Broad pushed Hanceville’s lead to 48-35 at the half.

The Blue Devils went on a huge run to start out the third period as they made it a 48-43 game, but a Harris three gave the Bulldogs a 52-43 lead. Etowah wasn’t done yet, as another run made it a 52-48 game, and later on, they scored six straight points to take a 56-55 lead. A late layup by Campbell gave Hanceville a 57-56 lead going into what would be a wild back-and-forth ending to the game.

Another fast start by the Blue Devils gave them a 63-57 lead early in the fourth quarter, but treys by Broad and Harris cut it to 65-63. Etowah later pushed their lead to 70-63 and then, to 75-68. Hanceville made things very interesting after that, as Harris got fouled after drilled another three. He completed the old-fashioned four-point play, then Campbell hit a pair from the line to cut it to 75-74. The Blue Devils, though, quickly increased their lead to 81-74, but the Bulldogs looked to go on one last run to get back in the game. Campbell put in a layup, then later on, put in a huge three to make it an 81-79 game, but three free throws by the Blue Devils helped them seal the 84-79 win on the road.

West Point vs. Brewer (Basketball – Jan. 13)

West Point faced off against Brewer at home in a huge area game. Offense was hard to come by early enough for both teams, and Brewer took a 9-4 lead into the second period. The Patriots quickly pushed their lead to 18-10 in the second and later, made it 21-12. Ashton Rodgers drilled a trey, and Pressley Burtis put in a jumper to cut it 21-17, but Brewer would end up holding a 27-20 lead at the half.

A hot start to the third quarter by the Patriots saw them push their lead to 31-20, but Rodgers brought the Warriors right back into the game, as he drilled a pair of treys and converted on his and-one opportunity, to make it a 33-29 game. Brewer held a 37-31 lead, but West Point looked to cut into their deficit even more. Burtis put in a pair of shots, and Rodgers drilled a floater to cut it to 39-37 going into the fourth quarter.

A layup by Jay Lamar tied the game up at 39 early in the fourth, but the Patriots scored the next six points to take a 45-39 lead. Kolten Perry put in a floater, then Rodgers split his free throws to make it a 45-42 game. Rodgers got fouled late in the game and drilled both shots from the line to cut it to 45-44. Brewer hit a pair of free throws of their own to take a 47-44 lead. Multiple attempts by West Point to tie the game up came up just short, and the Warriors dropped a heartbreaker at home to Brewer 47-44.

Cold Springs vs. Fairview (Basketball – Jan. 26)

The Cold Springs Lady Eagles faced off against the Fairview Lady Aggies in a semifinal game at the Cullman County Tournament. It was a low-scoring affair to start out the game. Cold Springs jumped out to a 6-0 lead, but Emma Garcia made both of Fairview’s baskets in the first period, as the Lady Aggies made it a 6-4 game going into the second period.

A pair of Jayla Gorham free throws made it a 9-6 game, but a jumper by Ella Dickerson helped Cold Springs push their lead to 13-6. Dickerson added a pair of free throws to make it 15-6, but the Lady Aggies went on a little run of their own, as an Allison Davis made jumper cut it to 17-12. Erin Bailey drilled a trey to give the Lady Eagles a 20-12 lead, and they ended up taking a 22-14 lead into the locker room.

After an Ella Bruer trey made it 25-17, a pair of free throws by Gorham made it 25-19, and later on, a Golden trey cut it to 27-22. Cold Springs went on an 11-4 run, and a Maci Brown trey pushed their lead to 38-26. The Lady Eagles took a 38-28 lead into the final period.

Each team traded a trey to keep it at a 10-point game early in the fourth quarter, but the Lady Aggies looked to make a run of their own to get back in the game. Baskets by Ava Thomas and Garcia cut it to 43-37, and later on, Fairview made it a 45-41 game on layups by Thomas and Garcia. Darby Nichols knocked down a floater to cut it to 48-45, but a huge steal and a free throw by Bruer helped seal the 49-45 win for Cold Springs. That win turned out to be number 700 for coach Tammy West.

Hanceville vs. Cold Springs (Basketball – Feb. 2)

The Hanceville Lady Bulldogs hosted the Cold Springs Lady Eagles in a big county game. Cold Springs got off to a quick start, scoring the first five points of the game, and the three-ball helped them push their lead to 16-4. The Lady Eagles would take a 21-8 lead into the second period.

Cold Springs continued to add to their lead in the second, stretching their lead to 30-12 on threes by Ella Bruer, Kenady Graves, and Ciara Calvert. Hanceville went on a 6-0 run to cut it to 30-18, but Maci Brown and Ella Dickerson each put in a long-range shot to give Cold Springs a 36-20 lead at the half.

The Lady Bulldogs slowly start to cut into the deficit in the third period, as an and-one by Alex Twitty and a pair of baskets by Kate Sterling cut it to 38-29. The Lady Eagles quickly pushed their lead to 43-29 on another Brown trey, and they took a 43-31 lead into the final quarter.

Hanceville got off to a red-hot start to the final period, as Aaliyah Twitty and Katelyn Boyd each hit a shot in the paint, then Boyd drilled a long-range shot to make it a 43-38 game. Another made shot by Sterling and a huge and-one by Alex Twitty tied the game up at 43. The Lady Bulldogs ended up taking a 45-43 lead on a layup by Aaliyah Twitty. The game was tied at 47 after another made shot by Sterling, but five straight points by Cold Springs gave them a 52-47 lead. Savana McAnnally put in a pair of free throws to make it a three-point game, but a pair of Brown free throws gave the Lady Eagles a 54-49 lead. Cold Springs ended up barely getting past Hanceville 54-51.

West Point vs. Lawrence County (Softball – Feb. 27)

The West Point Lady Warriors hosted the Lawrence County Lady Red Devils in a big region game. West Point quickly got in the run column in their opening at-bats, as Bethany Minck launched a leadoff home run over the center field wall to give them the early lead. Singles by Maycie Brown and Brinlee Phillips put runners on first and second, then Sidney Burks connected on a three-run home run over the center field wall to give the Lady Warriors an early 4-0 lead.

Lawrence County got a run in the second and the third to make it a 4-2 game, but West Point made it 5-2 in the bottom of the fourth on a stolen base by Katie Beth Yovino. The Lady Warriors later made it 6-3 on an RBI single by Bethany Minck, but the Lady Red Devils quickly loaded the bases with one out. After a fly out, West Point was one out away from getting the win, but Lawrence County had other plans, however, as a bases-clearing double tied the game up at six. The Lady Warriors weren’t able to break the tie in their half, so the game would be decided in extra innings.

Lawrence County quickly got three runs to take a 9-6 lead, but West Point answered right back in their half. Kara Jones hit an RBI single to make it 9-7, then after a double by Macayla Wilkins, Minck hit a two-run double to tie the game up at nine. A double-play, though, ended their half of the inning. The Lady Red Devils collected a run to take a 10-9 lead, and the Lady Warriors couldn’t get anything going in their final at-bats, as they ended up dropping a heartbreaker to Lawrence County 10-9.

Fairview vs. Lawrence County (Football – Oct. 20)

The Fairview Aggies took on the Lawrence County Red Devils in a huge region game. It was a defensive battle to start out, as turnovers, a failed fake punt attempt, and several punts by both teams combined was the story for most of the first half. Another Red Devil punt gave the ball back to Fairview, and on the first play, an unsportsmanlike penalty on Lawrence County on the first play gave the Aggies a first down at the 44. The Aggies’ running game started to get going after that, as runs by Kolt Redding, Carson Jones, and Barrett York helped them get to the 11. Redding capped off the drive in style, as he found Jameson Goble in the corner of the end zone for a seven-yard score, to give Fairview a 7-0 lead at the half.

The third quarter was more of the same, as fans saw way more than their fair share of punts from their respective squads. Fairview looked to add to their lead after forcing yet another Lawrence County punt, but another fumble gave the ball back to the Red Devils. The Aggies were called for pass interference on the first play, then Lawrence County broke free for a 76-yard run to tie the game up at seven with 7:29 left to go in the game.

Fairview looked to break the tie on its next offensive possession. Big runs by Jake Harper, plus big passes from Redding to Cade Yeager, had the Aggies inching closer and closer to the end zone. A few plays later, Redding was able to find the end zone on a huge four-yard run to give Fairview a 14-7 lead with a little over three minutes to go in the game. The Aggies picked the perfect time to force their first turnover of the game, as Redding picked off a Red Devil pass with a little over two minutes to go in the contest. Jones picked up a huge first down, and Fairview kneeled a couple of times to help seal the huge 14-7 win at home.

Holly Pond vs. Falkville (Basketball – Dec. 12)

The Holly Pond Broncos took on the Falkville Blue Devils in a key region game at home. Holly Pond got off to a great start to the game, jumping out to a quick 6-0 lead on treys by Kollin Brown and Sawyer Olinger. A three by Carson Ryan and back-to-back baskets by Cade Allbright pushed the Bronco lead to 13-2. A big run by Falkville, though, saw them tie the game up at 13, and the first period ended with both teams tied up at 15.

The second period saw more than a handful of lead changes. A made jumper by Brown gave Holly Pond a 23-22 lead, but another run by the Blue Devils saw them take a 29-25 lead into the locker room. Falkville pushed their lead to 35-27 in the third period, but a pair of free throws by Olinger and a Nik Goodwin made shot in the paint made it a 35-31 game. A pair of Brown free throws cut it to 35-33, but the Blue Devils scored the final five points of the quarter, as they took a 40-35 lead into the final quarter.

Two more free throws by Brown made it a 42-36 game, but Falkville quickly pushed their lead to 45-36, and later on, to 51-42. The Broncos, though, looked to make things really interesting in the end. Goodwin drilled a big three to cut it to 51-45, and later on, Olinger banked in a long-range shot to make it a 53-48 game. Brown put in one of his own from the left wing to trim it to just a two-point game at 55-53, but a late layup and a free throw by the Blue Devils helped them seal the 58-53 win on the road.

Fairview vs. Good Hope (Basketball – Dec. 22)

The Fairview Aggies faced off against the Good Hope Raiders in a big county matchup. It was a close first quarter, as Good Hope held a slim 8-5 lead on a driving layup by Jacob Haynes. Five straight points by Tyler Cone pushed the Raider lead to 13-7, but a trey by Blake Rickard cut it to 13-11 lead. A pair of layups by Haynes gave Good Hope a 17-12 lead going into the second quarter.

A jumper by Tucker Malin and another basket in the paint by Haynes gave the Raiders a 21-14 lead early in the second, but Fairview went on a big run of their own. Baskets by Jac Dunn, layups by Rickard and Carson Jones, and a long-range shot by Kobe Payne, gave the Aggies a 25-23 lead. The Raiders finished the first half strong, as a rebound and putback by Weston Hancock, plus a Cone trey, gave them a 31-29 lead at the half.

Five straight points by Malin pushed the Raider lead to 36-29 and later on, baskets by Malin and Cone made it a 40-32 game. Four straight points by K’mal Bell increased Good Hope’s lead to 48-38. The Raiders would push their lead to 54-41. After Fairview cut it to 57-46, a late basket by Bell saw Good Hope take a 59-46 lead into the final quarter.

Hancock put in three shots from the free throw line to give the Raiders a 62-46 lead early in the final period, but all of a sudden, Fairview started to claw their way back into the game. Landun Smith put in a shot in the paint, then Cade Yeager scored five straight points, and Rickard scored three straight points, as it was now a 62-56 game. Bell stopped the bleeding with a basket on the other end, but the Aggies were just getting started.

Jones put in a layup, then Payne banked in a short jumper, and Rickard put in a trey to cut it to 66-65. Jones collected a steal and a layup to give Fairview a 67-66 lead. Free throws by Payne and Rickard gave the Aggies a 69-67 lead, but a pair of free throws by Dakota Overton tied the game up at 69 with 25 seconds left to go in the contest, setting up the stage for the biggest shot of the game.

The Aggies carefully milked the clock and the ball ended up in the hands of Payne close to the out-of-bounds line. He ended up finding Rickard in the right corner for the enormous three to give Fairview a 72-69 lead. Good Hope had a chance to tie the game up on its final possession, but the three-pointer fell just short, and the Aggies picked up a huge three-point win at home.

Cold Springs vs. Winston County (Basketball – Dec. 28)

The Cold Springs Eagles hosted the Winston County Yellow Jackets on December 28th, as they looked to build some momentum going into the new year. Cold Springs got off to a 5-1 lead, but Winston County tied the game up at five. Cole Bales scored five straight points to give the Eagles a 10-5 lead, but a pair of treys by the Yellow Jackets gave them the lead right back at 11-10. Bales hit one of his own from long-range, as Cold Springs took a 13-11 lead into the second period.

Zane Brown and Ethan Day each hit a trey in the second to push the Eagle lead to 19-11. They continued to add to their lead after that, as Bales continued his red-hot start to the game, hitting another three, and converting his and-one opportunity, to give Cold Springs a 26-15 lead. Winston County cut it to 29-20, but the Eagles’ red-hot shooting from three continued. Day and Bales each added a shot from long-range, and the Eagles ended up taking a 35-22 lead into the locker room.

The Yellow Jackets found their shooting stroke to start out the third quarter, as they scored the first 14 points of the third, to take a 36-35 lead. Josh Winfrey finally stopped the run with a jumper from the free throw line to give Cold Springs a 37-36 lead. Winston County went on an 8-0 run to take a 44-37 lead, but a basket in the paint by Bailey Gann cut it to 44-40. The Eagles went into the fourth quarter trailing 46-40.

Tycen Kilgo collected a steal and ended up finding Bales for a basket to make it a 46-42 game. Day cut it to 46-45 on a trey, and later on, he hit a layup to make it a 51-50 game. Seth Ingram drilled a trey from the right wing to give Cold Springs a 53-52 lead, but a pair of Yellow Jacket baskets gave them the lead right back at 56-53. The game got a little crazy after that, as a technical foul was called on Winston County for having too many players on the court. Bales put in both shots from the free-throw line to make it a 56-55 game. The Eagles had a shot to win the game, and Day ended up getting fouled with 1.2 seconds left to go in the game. The freshman ended up hitting both free throws to give Cold Springs a 57-56 lead. The Eagles got a huge defensive stand on its final possession of the game, and they ended up getting a huge 57-56 win at home.

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