Tigers fall to Cullman in four-overtime battle
The rivalry between Hartselle and Cullman continues to be one of the best in the state, and their matchup in the area championship game last week left fans wanting more as Cullman won a 72-70 four-overtime game.
“The game was as exciting of a game as we have been a part of in my time here at Hartselle,” Hartselle head coach Faron Key said. “We played two similar games a couple of years ago in the Northwest Regional with Minor and Bessemer City.”
Besides having the area title on the line, the loser would have to face top-ranked Pinson Valley in a 6A sub-regional game.
Cullman controlled much of the first half leading 32-26 at the break. However, they opened the third quarter with a 12-3 run to take their largest lead of the game at 44-29 with 3:34 left in the third quarter.
Hartselle outscored the Bearcats 8-2 in the final 3:24 of the third to make the score 46-37 heading into the final quarter.
The Tigers dominated the final eight minutes, outscoring Cullman 18-9 to force overtime. Hartselle battled all the way back from down 15 to tie the game at 55 with 24 seconds remaining. The Bearcats had two shots at the game-winner inside the final 10 seconds but came away empty.
“I thought early on, the layoff since our last game cost us in the first half,” Key said. “After trailing 44-29, I told the team in a timeout that they just needed to play better, and we can get back in the game.”
In the first overtime, the two teams battled back and forth, with Cullman hitting two free throws with 46 seconds remaining to tie the game at 59-59. Both teams had a shot for the game-winner inside the final 10 seconds.
In the second overtime, Ryan Dunn hit a layup with nine seconds remaining to tie the game at 62-62. A Cullman three-point attempt sailed long with less than two seconds remaining to send the game to a third overtime.
Cullman struck first in the third overtime to take a 64-62 lead. However, Rylan Smothers answered with a layup to tie the game at 64-64. Smothers then gave the Tigers the lead at 65-64 by making one of two free throws. The Bearcats scored the following four points to take a 68-65 lead. They had a chance to seal the game, but a missed free throw with 3.7 seconds remaining gave the Tigers one final chance. Kiah Key pulled down the rebound, raced up court, and drained a 30-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to a fourth overtime, tied at 68-68.
“Kiah’s shot was one of those deals where someone just needs to make a play,” Key said. “Kiah made a huge play in hitting the three-pointer.”
Cullman took a four-point lead, 72-68, after scoring on two layups in the first three minutes of the fourth overtime. Key cut the lead to 72-70 with two free throws with 45 seconds remaining. However, the Bearcats missed two free throws in the game’s final 17 seconds to give Hartselle one more chance. Key got to the rim for a layup attempt with less than two seconds remaining, but it rolled around the rim and fell off, with Cullman securing the rebound and the win.
Kiah Key and Ryan Dunn both finished with 21 points to lead Hartselle. Key added seven rebounds and three assists, while Dun had two rebounds and five assists. Smothers finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, while Markus Tapscott and Ty Odom added six points each. Tapscott also had six rebounds.
“Kiah is a competitor, and he plays as hard as anyone on the court,” Key said. “I can say the same thing about Dunn, who put us in a position to have several shots to win the game. But both of them led the team as seniors are supposed to do.”