By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
For 31 minutes and 54 seconds of Thursday’s area contest between St. Bernard and Addison, JaDavian Roland and Sean Moriarty were the entire Saint offense.
But with the score tied and six seconds left, the spotlight escaped those two seniors and shone directly on John Gurtowski, a junior playing his very first season of organized basketball.
And he didn't flinch, nearly dunking a putback on a missed layup to send the crowd into a frenzy and clinch a thrilling 44-42 home victory for St. Bernard.
“It felt really good,” Gurtowski said of his heroic play. “I’ve been wanting to do that all year. I finally saw an opportunity, so I just went up.”
Roland and Moriarty spent much of the night building a comfortable lead for the Saints. With Roland working his magic on the perimeter and Moriarty imposing his will in the paint, St. Bernard found itself up by 10 early in the fourth quarter.
The lead didn’t hold, however, as the Saints transitioned into their stall offense, which the Bulldogs took advantage of to claw back into contention. Kaleb Estill completed a three-point play, Zach Anders pitched in a shot, and Levi Tyree capped off a 10-0 run with a 3-pointer and layup to tie the score at 42-42 with 47 seconds remaining.
To make matters worse for St. Bernard, Moriarty had fouled out just 15 seconds earlier, leaving Roland as the Saints’ only true playmaker on the floor.
The senior shooter made his biggest play of the night when it mattered most, stealing the ball from an Addison player at midcourt and dashing toward the basket for what would’ve been the game-winning layup.
The crowd collectively gasped as the ball rolled off the front of the rim but roared a second later when Gurtowski took flight and cleaned up the miss with authority.
A last-chance heave by Bulldog Jesse Seales never had a chance, sealing the nail-biter in St. Bernard’s favor.
“It was heat of the moment, and I knew we had to get the ball to win, so I had to take it,” Roland said of his steal, which began the game-winning sequence. “I was upset because I missed it (the layup), but when I saw him (Gurtowski) clean it up, all I thought was we won.”
Moriarty could only watch from the bench with five fouls to his credit but had every bit of confidence in his teammates to pull out the victory. Though he and Roland had carried the load up until the final six seconds, Moriarty was more than OK with someone else coming through in the clutch for the Saints.
“It doesn’t matter who makes it,” Moriarty said. “It just matters that it went in.”
Roland, who drained three 3-pointers, led all scorers with 24 points, and Moriarty was close behind with 18.
Estill was solid with 16 points for Addison, while Tyree came up with eight, Ronnie Willette chipped in seven and Seales had five. Tony Brown, Jake Bryson and Anders all contributed two points apiece.
St. Bernard will travel to Susan Moore today. The Bulldogs will be off until they host area-foe Falkville next Tuesday.
% Addison 38, St. Bernard 29: Lauren Cutcher hit two shots from behind the arc and scored 12 points to lead the Bulldogs to their seventh consecutive win and eighth overall.
Addison’s lead was only four at halftime but stretched to 11 by the end of the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
Behind Cutcher was Callie Brewer with nine points, Jessica Benton with seven and Stora Gilliland with six. Bulldogs’ Katie Russell and Molly Robinson each had two.
Michayla Brown was the Saints’ high scorer with 10 points, while Aymee Chauvin was next in line with seven. Zana Wilson and Katherine Gamble both scored four points apiece, and Zoie Wilson and Alli Messick each tallied two.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.