By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Senior years are meant for making memories.
On Monday night, Cullman’s Morgan Smith made one heck of a memory, smoothly sinking a game-tying 3-pointer with less than a minute remaining and then swishing a game-winning trey with just 4.2 seconds left on the clock to clinch a courageous 50-49 comeback at home versus Arab.
After leading for much of the first quarter, the Bearcats allowed the Knights to claw back in the second, pull ahead in the third and take a 41-33 advantage into the early moments of the final frame.
From there on out, it was all Cullman, all the time, with Baylee Johnson sinking 3’s from both corners and knocking down a pair of field goals to set the stage for Smith.
Down 47-44, the senior received a pass behind the arc from Johnson, who had tried to set up a shot for herself, and launched it up, tickling the twine to tie the ballgame with 36.5 seconds left.
“I was really expecting Baylee to keep it in her hands because we were both hitting,” Smith said. “When she gave it to me, I thought I had to step up and make something happen. But I tried and it went in, thank goodness.”
Skylar Holmes connected on an inside attempt on Arab’s ensuing possession, leaving the Bearcats behind yet again.
But not for long.
Cullman ran the play coach Jonathan Hayes dialed up to perfection, resulting in Smith nailing the game-clinching 3 from straightaway. She immediately jumped in the air, let loose a smile and ran to celebrate with her teammates.
“It was really exciting because you don’t get this big shots all the time,” Smith said. “I was just focused on helping my team anyway I could.”
Smith finished with a game-high 23 points, barely edging out Johnson’s 20-point total. The duo combined for seven 3-pointers and accounted for all of the Bearcats’ points in the second half.
“That’s just exciting basketball,” Hayes said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the way they fought through adversity.”
Shelby Beam got off to quite a hot start of her own, scoring 11 of her 16 points in the second quarter to bring the Knights back in the ballgame. Cullman caught on in the second half, however, limiting Beam to just two points in the third quarter and three in the fourth.
“Shelby Beam is just a tremendous player,” Hayes said. “I thought we did our job with her in the third and fourth quarters.”
Blair Nall pitched in four points for the Bearcats, who improved to 12-8 with the thriller. Hayden Short had three points.
Cullman won’t have much time to celebrate the victory, hosting Mortimer Jordan tonight.
% Cullman 65, Arab 51: Mere moments after capping off a career-high 36-point performance that included seven 3-pointers and buzzer-beaters in the first and second quarters, Lawson Schaffer couldn’t even begin to explain what had just transpired.
“I have no idea,” the sophomore superstar said. “I’ve never shot like this in a real game. I just came out and tried to help my teammates as much as possible.”
And help he did, springboarding the Bearcats (16-6) to their 10th straight victory. The fact that he contributed to the win meant much more to Schaffer than any individual accolades ever could.
“That’s better than anything,” he said. “I’d rather have more wins than points any day.”
Schaffer was on fire from the get-go, racking up three 3-pointers and 12 points in the opening eight minutes. He was still smoldering the last eight, too, piling on two more treys and 11 more points in the fourth quarter.
“My teammates just got me open tonight,” Schaffer said. “It felt good, real good.”
Cullman’s Houston Turner scored eight points, Lee Mattox came off the bench for five points, and Seth Swalve had three. Lukas McNeal, Troy Forrest, JW Shabel, Keaton Dean and Auston Neal all chipped in two points apiece.
Logan Sufridge was Arab’s high scorer with 17 points. Ryne Rush had 15.
Both varsity games were played in the Cullman Middle School gymnasium after a leak sprung in the high school gym’s ceiling in the middle of the junior varsity girls’ contest.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.