Cullman’s girls survived a dogfight with Arab on Tuesday, and the Bearcat boys nearly came away with a clean sweep on Wednesday, pushing both of the Black and Gold’s tennis teams to their fifth consecutive section tournament championship.
“It doesn’t matter what sport you’re playing, what section you’re in, that’s quite an accomplishment to do something five times in a row,” coach Nathan Bates said. “After you do it that second time, the target on your back gets pretty big. It makes it a little bit harder when everybody is gunning for you.”
Four singles and one doubles title gave Cullman’s girls 53 points, just enough to best the Knights, who finished with 49. Bailey Baker’s gritty three-set (6-7, 6-4, 7-5) finals victory in No. 4 singles — the last singles match of the day — put the Bearcats over the top for the team win.
“It went right down to the wire,” Bates said. “If we wouldn’t have won that, we would’ve ended up tying Arab. That was really clutch.”
Cullman quickly found itself behind the 8-ball following runner-up results in singles by Hannah Cornelius (No. 1) and Makenna Smith (No. 6) to open the championship round. With two options left on the table — fight or flight — the Bearcats chose the former, stringing together titles by No. 2 McKenzie Bussman (6-2, 6-2), No. 3 Olivia Sharpton (7-5, 6-2), No. 4 Baker (see above) and No. 5 Anna Trevarthen (5-0 injury forfeit) in singles and pulling out a championship in No. 2 doubles by Sharpton and Baker to seal the deal.
Cornelius/Bussman and Trevarthen/Mary Claire Smith were runners-up on the Nos. 1 and 3 doubles courts, respectively.
“I was really proud of the girls for bouncing back because it was looking a little bleak for a second,” Bates said.
As close as the race for the girls section championship was on Tuesday, the battle for the boys title turned out to be anything but just one day later.
The Black and Gold absolutely obliterated the field, winning titles on eight of nine courts for a 60-point total. Boaz and Sylacauga were far behind in second and third place with 35 and 24 points, respectively.
All six of Cullman’s singles players — No. 1 Clint Watson (6-3, 6-0), No. 2 Baylor Adams (6-2, 6-0), No. 3 Jacob Davis (6-1, 6-2), No. 4 Luke Bowden (6-2, 5-7, 6-3), No. 5 Ryan Hunt (6-0, 6-4) and No. 6 Matthew Davis (6-0, 6-2) — went home with hardware.
Watson/Bowden and Hunt/M. Davis added to their bounty with respective championships on the Nos. 2 and 3 doubles courts. Adams/J. Davis were runners-up at No. 1.
Next up for both Bearcat squads will be the Class 5A State Tennis Tournament next Monday and Tuesday in Decatur. The girls landed in second place at last year’s season-ender, while the boys were fourth.
% The Times' sports editor Rob Ketcham contributed to this report.