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Everyone on the Hartselle side was standing and watching Ryan Dunn’s shot (the ball is outside the picture) sail through the air heading to the basket for the game-winning basket giving the Tigers a 51-50 win over Cullman. Enquirer photo by Jim Meadows.

Dunn’s three-pointer sinks the Bearcats in the final seconds

Ryan Dunn has made some big shots in his career as a Hartselle Tiger. However, none were bigger than the three-pointer he hit with less than two seconds remaining to give the Tigers a 51-50 win over Cullman.

“I wanted to go for the win with the final shot,” Dunn said. “To pull out a win tonight shows our team’s heart and character.”

“There isn’t anybody playing better than Ryan right now,” Hartselle head coach Faron Key said. “He struggled coming down the stretch but stepped up when we needed it the most.”

The game-ending play wouldn’t have happened without a defensive stop by Thomas Itsede with 6.8 seconds remaining when he forced a Cullman turnover after missing the game-tying shot just seconds earlier. The turnover gave the Tigers the ball deep in the corner for a throw-in.

“To close practice on Thursday, we practiced deep corner throw-ins, and I didn’t understand why until right now,” coach Key said. “Kiah made a great inbounds pass to get Ryan the ball, and he took care of the rest.”

The Tigers had to battle from behind all night, trailing for much of the game.

Hartselle scored the game’s first two points on a basket by Itsede. After that, they took an 18-17 lead with 4:31 remaining in the second, which would be their last lead until late in the third quarter.

Cullman controlled much of the game after the Tiger’s last lead of the first half.

The Bearcats twice led by six points in the second quarter before the Tigers cut the lead to 29-25 heading into halftime.

Cullman’s largest lead of the game came twice in the third quarter, leading by eight points. Their last eight-point lead came with 3:12 left in the third quarter with a score of 39-31.

Hartselle would dominate the game the rest of the way, outscoring the Bearcats 20-11 the rest of the way.

The Tigers went on a 9-0 run to take their first lead since midway through the second quarter. The run was capped off by freshman Cole Miles, who tied the game at 40-40 with 29 seconds remaining in the third quarter. However, Cullman answered with a three-pointer to take a 43-40 lead into the final quarter.

The Bearcats twice led by four points in the fourth quarter before Itsede tied the game at 46-46. He would tie the game again, this time at 48-48 with 1:03 remaining. He scored six of his team-high 14 points in the fourth quarter.

Cullman took their final lead, 50-48, with 27 seconds remaining on a putback after Kiah Key blocked his third shot of the game.

The Tigers had two good looks at the basket to tie the game with 17 seconds left, but both shots failed to go in. a foul by Kohl Key with seven seconds remaining would set up the game-ending heroics by Itsede and Dunn.

Dunn finished with 13 points, including five in the final quarter. He also had seven assists. Kohl Key and Rylan Smothers each scored eight points. Smothers also had eight rebounds, while Key had six rebounds and two steals.

Kiah Key, who was held scoreless, finished with four blocks, all in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line.

The win gives the Tigers the regular season area championship and the right to host the area tournament finals.

For Dunn and Kiah Key, the area championship is their third in four years.

“Winning the area championship is important,” coach Key said. “It gives us another home game against a really good team with a chance for the area tournament title.”

The game was played in a packed Hartselle arena as both sides were filled with fans from Hartselle and Cullman. But the fans from Hartselle stood out the most for coach Key.

“The atmosphere created by our fans tonight was incredible,” Key added. “It felt like the whole town of Hartselle was here cheering us on to victory. The win is huge for our team, coaching staff, school and town. Thank you, Hartselle!”


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