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December 27, 2013

YULE TIDE CLASSIC: Cullman comes up short in offensive slugfest vs. Gardendale; Broncos, Bearcats advance to finale

HANCEVILLE — Cullman’s varsity boys got exactly the kind of matchup they wanted against Gardendale on Friday night.

The Bearcats ran the floor efficiently and as often as possible — coach Bobby Meyer’s goal each and every time on the court — collecting numerous buckets on fast-paced possessions.

Unfortunately for Cullman, though, the Rockets accomplished the same feat — and just a bit more — as they eased past the Black and Gold 78-73 in the semifinals of the Yule Tide Classic.

“It’s a tough loss,” Meyer said following the game. “You can’t give extra possessions to a good team in a close game. That’s what we did tonight. Both teams played hard and well. We lost to a high-caliber basketball team.”

Both squads battled it out from the opening tip to the final buzzer, neither willing to concede an inch.

Gardendale grabbed an early 23-19 lead behind the play of Austin Hicks before the Bearcats stormed back with a secret weapon of their own — Seth Swalve.

The sophomore went off in the second quarter, dropping in 18 of his game-high 31 points in the frame — to lift his team to a 40-35 halftime lead.

Cullman stretched its cushion to as many as nine points late in the third frame, but the Rockets weren’t about to go quietly into the night.

Hicks attacked the rim at will, while teammates Juan Jackson and Marshall Williams found their stroke from downtown to cut the deficit to just one entering the fourth.

The final eight minutes of the game mirrored a heavyweight bout, as each squad exchanged blow after blow all the way to the last 90 seconds of the contest.

A Lawson Schaffer trey and a couple of Lane Donaldson free throws gave the Bearcats a 70-68 advantage with 1:41 left on the scoreboard.

It was the last time the Black and Gold remained in front, however, as Jackson buried the go-ahead 3 from the left corner before Hicks made a free throw and followed up his miss with a critical offensive putback to give the Rockets a four-point cushion.

“It was a game of runs,” Meyer said. “We'd make one, then they'd make one. They just had the last little one that made the difference. Second-chance points are what hurt us today.”

Cullman had a couple of opportunities to get back into the game, but a turnover and a missed 1-and-1 at the line all but sealed the Bearcats’ fate.

Schaffer and Donaldson pitched in 16 and 14 points each in the loss, while Austin Beck netted four. Chase Slocumb and Jason McAfee both drained a 3-pointer, and Keaton Dean rounded out the scoring with a layup.

The Black and Gold (9-6) will take on Arab in the consolation game Saturday at 5 p.m.

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