By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
HOLLY POND —
Cullman’s girls basketball team put an end to Holly Pond’s eight-game winning streak and spoiled the Broncos’ Senior Night on Monday by heading into the postseason with a hard-fought 45-41 victory.
The Bearcats received hefty contributions from their most reliable scorers — Morgan Smith, 11 points, and Baylee Johnson, nine — as well as from a couple of key role players — Blair Nall and Hayden Short accounted for eight points apiece. Four other players — Oakleigh White, Emily Tucker, Christina Skinner and Hannah Shelton — pitched in at least one point.
“I’ve been saying all year I wanted other people to score, and we got that tonight,” Cullman coach Jonathan Hayes said. “Blair hit a couple 3’s that were big, and Christina’s two free throws in the fourth were huge at that point in the game.”
Holly Pond (23-5) cruised to a 26-point victory over an injury-riddled Bearcat (15-10) squad way back in November but found its hands full with the Black and Gold on Monday night.
The No. 7 Broncos, who held a slim 14-12 lead at the end of the first quarter, went cold from the field in the second, struggling through a nearly seven-minute scoreless stretch that carried over a bit past halftime. Johnson took full advantage of Holly Pond’s offensive woes and put the pedal to the metal with two layups and a 3-pointer to give Cullman a 24-19 advantage at the break.
“I’m really out of words of how to describe her play,” Hayes said of the sophomore. “She’s worked solid at her game, and she has improved tremendously since last year. Baylee does such a good job inside the offense, but you have to let her run free a little bit.”
Bronco senior Taylor Terry tied the ballgame at 36-36 midway through the fourth quarter. Nall immediately answered with her second trey of the evening, however, to put the score back in the Bearcats’ favor.
Holly Pond kept threatening the rest of the way, but Nall hit a runner in the lane and Smith smoothly connected on two free throws to ice the statement win for Cullman.
“For Mojo (Smith) to have that many varsity games under her belt, you can count on her,” Hayes said of his star senior, who also had six rebounds and four assists. “She hit big shots tonight, including those two big free throws there at the end. She’s just a tremendous player.”
In addition to Smith’s, Johnson’s, Nall’s and Short’s scoring efforts, Oakleigh White and Emily Tucker chipped in three points apiece. Skinner had the two shots from the charity stripe, and Shelton added one of her own.
Short also had a productive night on the boards with nine rebounds.
Terry paced the Broncos with a game-high 14 points, while Meg Gambrill came through with 10. Taylor Rowell was helpful with seven points; Natasha Holcombe, five; Lexi Lynn, three; and Rachel Finley, two.
% Holly Pond 60, Cullman 53: The Bearcats pulled within one with 1:45 remaining, but the Broncos took over from there, using three late points from Gunter Morris and five made free throws from Colby Adams to earn the triumph.
“Colby knows the ball is going to be in his hands in those situations,” Holly Pond coach Mitch Morris said. “That’s who I want to have it, and that’s who our team wants. He made enough of them, and Gunter made enough down the stretch. We did what we needed to do.”
The bitter rivals didn’t hide their disdain for one another, with players flying all over the court, getting aggressive underneath the basket and begging for fouls throughout the entire contest. They apparently got a few of those calls from the officials, seeing as both teams reached the bonus inside the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
“Anytime we play Cullman, it’s going to be a knockdown, dragout,” Morris said. “They play physical. My biggest thing coming in was making sure we could handle that, and I thought for the most part we did.”
Gunter Morris led the way for the Broncos with 18 points, while Adams was next in line with 14. Austin Smith also cracked double-digits with 11.
Other Holly Pond (21-5) contributors were Vince Clingman, seven points; Jacob Cahoon, six; and Ben Wilson and Blake Black, two each.
Cullman received big-time contributions from Houston Turner and Lawson Schaffer, who picked up 18 and 16 points, respectively.
Other Bearcat (18-10) contributors were Troy Forrest, seven points; Keaton Dean and Lane Donaldson, five apiece; and Lee Mattox, two.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.