By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Cullman moved one step closer to winning its inaugural Christmas tournament with a 56-55 upset win over Class 4A, No.2 Dallas County on Thursday night.
The Bearcats hit clutch shots and played gritty defense all night, building up a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter.
From there, it was free throws — the Bearcats made 13 alone in the fourth — that sealed the win.
“We had to keep scrappy against their bigger players,” coach Bobby Meyer said. “We had to make our five little guys seem like six little guys out there, and I think we were able to do that.”
Dallas County didn’t make it easy for Cullman, cutting the Bearcats’ nine-point deficit to just two with under 10 seconds left to play.
The Bearcats’ Seth Swalve responded by hitting one of two free throws to make Markell Harris’ 3-pointer as time expired all for naught.
With the win, Cullman improves its record to 10-6 and will look to make it one more against Tanner, the top-ranked team in Class 2A. The Rattlers took care of Athens, 62-54, to advance to the championship game.
Meyer said Tanner would pose a big challenge for his team.
“They’re easily the best team in their classification,” he said. “They’re loaded top to bottom with athleticism.”
The championship game will take place tonight at 8 p.m.
% Athens 49, Holly Pond 48: The Broncos poured in 3-pointer after 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, but when the clock struck zero, the Lady Broncos came up just short, falling to Athens by a final score of 49-48.
“We dug ourselves into such a hole early,” coach Scott Adams said. “Despite a furious comeback, we just couldn’t pull it off.”
Holly Pond trailed for most of the game, entering the final quarter down by 14 points.
The tide turned quickly, however, as back-to-back 3’s from Holly Pond’s Rachel Finley and Taylor Terry cut the Golden Eagles’ lead to six points midway through the frame.
Later on, with Athens holding a seven-point advantage, the Broncos nailed back-to-back 3-pointers once again, this time by Finley and Natasha Holcombe to cut the deficit to one.
Holding on to a one-point advantage with 7.1 seconds remaining, Athens’ Tariona Adams missed the front end of a 1-and -1 giving the Broncos one final chance to complete the comeback.
Unfortunately for Adams and his team, they were denied when Terry’s 3-point heave at the buzzer fell astray.
“We got ourselves out of it there at the end,” Adams said. “They fought hard and I’m proud of them for that.”
Athens’ center Alliyah Smith was a terror inside for the Golden Eagles, scoring 23 points and securing numerous rebounds.
“It’s almost impossible to guard her,” Adams said. “We tried to play behind her, front her, but nothing really worked.”
Holcombe was the top scorer for Holly Pond with 16 points, while teammates Finley and Terry each netted 11 apiece.
The loss is just the third of the year so far for the Broncos, dropping their record down to 14-3 on the season.
Holly Pond will conclude its tournament play today at 3:30 p.m. against Hartselle, while Athens and Northridge High will battle it out for the title.
% Cullman 62, Hazel Green 42: The Lady Bearcats had no trouble taking care of the Trojans Wednesday afternoon, rolling to an easy victory in the consolation’ bracket.
The Bearcat D was the MVP of the game, allowing just a single Trojan field goal in the last 11 minutes of the game.
“We made a couple of changes in the second half and it made all the difference,” Cullman coach Jonathan Hayes said. “We got a lot of transition points that were caused by our effort on defense.”
Cullman outscored Hazel Green 15-4 in the fourth, gaining most of its offense from Blair Nall, who netted nine points.
“Blair played a great second half,” Hayes added.
Baylee Johnson was the leading scorer for the Bearcats, hauling in 21 points, while Nall added 19.
Morgan Smith came in with 12 points and Oakleigh White, six.
Cullman will look to finish its tournament on a high note as they take on Gardendale today at 12:30 p.m.
‰ Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at email@example.com.