From 2 to 20: Tigers win area championship
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
The Hartselle Tigers continued their remarkable turnaround season with a 49-46 win over Cullman in the Area 13 championship game at the Pettey Center Monday evening.
Hartselle finished the 2005-06 season with a 2-25 record, but most of the players from that team returned for this year and the few seniors who didn't return left a message for the underclassmen after the team's first-round loss to Athens in the 2006 area tournament.
"In that locker room at Athens, we had some seniors stand up and say, 'Don't let this happen to this program again,'" said Hartselle coach Johnny Berry, fighting back tears. "The younger kids took those words to heart and decided right then and there that we were going to be a championship team this year."
Hartselle already had one championship trophy under its belt after the Tigers won the Morgan County tournament earlier this season, but it was the area title that put a stamp on the team's main goal this year.
"We've been saying all season that the goal has been 'from two (wins in 2006) to 20'," Berry said.
Cullman took an early 13-9 lead after the first quarter but Hartselle battled back and a Victor Stansberry jumpshot gave the Tigers a 16-15 advantage with 2:34 left in the second quarter. Hartselle led 19-17 at halftime but the Bearcats responded in the third quarter and led 28-27 heading into the final eight minutes.
The teams traded buckets for most of the fourth quarter before Hartselle took a 42-37 lead on two Jackson Holmes free throws with 2:37 left in the game. At that point, the Tigers moved into stall mode and made their late foul shots count – Hartselle was 12-of-13 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
"We knew that if we could get a lead late we'd put it in the freezer and let our kids shoot free throws to win the game for us," Berry said.
Cullman's Dylan Smith hit a lay-up with 2 seconds left to cut Hartselle's lead to three points but the Bearcats were out of timeouts and Hartselle simply held the ball on the inbounds play until the final buzzer.
The victory means Hartselle will host Area 16 runner-up and 10th-ranked Muscle Shoals in a sub-region game Friday night. The Trojans won both games against Hartselle during the regular season (76-41 at Muscle Shoals on Dec. 16 and 56-46 at Hartselle on Jan. 2).
Holmes led Hartselle (20-12) with 16 points, followed by 11 from Alex Brown and 10 from Victor Stansberry.
Kyle McSwain and Jacob Lovetto each had 11 points for Cullman (16-16).
Hartselle boys 53, West Point boys 37
The Tigers advanced in the Area 13 tournament at the Pettey Center Friday night, but it wasn't always easy.
Hartselle made just 22-of-41 free throws and missed several close baskets and lay-ups, but the Tigers never trailed in the game and advanced to the championship against Cullman.
"It was a win, but we can obviously play better," Hartselle coach Johnny Berry said. "I think maybe we were a little tight because of what was at stake tonight. West Point could have ended our season with a win."
Alex Brown led Hartselle (19-12) with 11 points and Tyler Young added 10.
Nick Graham led West Point with 10 points.
Cullman boys 52, Brewer boys 42
It was a tough finish for the Brewer Patriots Friday night at the Pettey Center as seven seniors, including head coach Sam Brown's son Alex, played the last game of their high school careers.
"You only get to coach your son once and that's it," coach Brown said. "These seniors are a special group to me and I hate to see them go. (Cullman) has a good ball team and I thought overall we were playing well, we just missed too many shots."
The Bearcats led 24-23 at halftime and pushed its lead to 31-25 at the start of the fourth quarter but the Patriots continued to battle. Brewer's Chris Humphries hit a lay-up with 5:51 left in the fourth quarter to cut Cullman's lead to 33-32, but the Bearcats responded on their next trip down the floor as Ben Waid hit a three-pointer.
"I thought that was a big point in the game," Brown said. "We cut it down to 1 and then they come right back down and hit a 3, that was a heartbreaker for us."
Waid hit another three-pointer with 4:57 left to put Cullman up 39-34 and from there the Patriots could never get the Bearcats' lead below four points.
Rusty Boyd led Brewer (11-16) with 15 points and Alex Brown added 10.
Waid led Cullman with 15 points.