By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Vinemont finally has its first county win of the season. Hanceville finally has its first loss.
Garrett Sipe was a big reason why — literally.
The 6-foot-7 center made his presence in the paint known when it mattered most, scoring six straight points late to lift the Eagles to a 59-52 area victory over the Bulldogs Friday night at home.
Sipe knotted up the score at 47-47 with 3:17 left on the clock, sank the game-winner more than a minute later and banked in one more basket for good measure to send Vinemont on its way. The senior proceeded to stuff a shot on the other end of the court and round up a critical rebound, allowing Lance Stanley, Zack Drake and Austan Hedgecock to ice the outcome at the free-throw line.
“We stepped it up, got our act together and came to play today,” said Sipe, whose squad improved to 3-2 with the win. “It feels great.”
Stanley was absolutely sizzling in the second half, sounding off for 14 of his team-high 16 points after the break. Hedgecock wasn’t far behind with 13 points, while Sipe rounded out the Eagles’ double-digit contributors with 12.
Vinemont’s other scorers were Drake, seven points; Austin Mosley, five; Hunter Rollins, four; and Riley Foust, two.
Hanceville had a head start on a 3-0 record with slim 19-16, 31-28 and 43-42 leads at the end of the first three quarters before the Eagles grabbed every ounce of momentum in the final frame.
Junior phenom Brontae Harris made a late 3-pointer to pull the Bulldogs within five, and senior Chris Smith drove to the hoop on the ensuing possession to close the deficit to four. Vinemont responded by nailing three of its last four attempts at the charity stripe, though, to keep Hanceville at bay.
Harris finished with a game-high 17 points. Smith was good for 11.
The Bulldogs’ other contributors were Xavier Malcom, seven points; Keith Twitty and Dant’e Reese, six each; Marshall Johnson, three; and Christian Sellers, two.
Hanceville will host Cold Springs Monday, while Vinemont will travel to Fairview Tuesday.
% Hanceville 35, Vinemont 33: After going an entire season without a win, the Bulldogs picked up their second in as many nights after building a big lead and doing just enough to hold onto it Friday on the road.
Hanceville held a seemingly comfortable 32-19 cushion early in the fourth quarter before the Eagles made their move, reeling off 12 unanswered points — Sydney Wallace was responsible for seven of them and Katie Speer, five — to pull within one with 36 seconds remaining.
Taylor Hollingsworth ensured that was as close as Vinemont would get, however, coming up clutch at the free-throw line by sinking 3 of 4 attempts to put away the ballgame. Hannah Adamson rattled in a basket as time expired, but it wasn’t quite enough to complete the Eagles’ gutsy comeback bid.
“We’ve preached playing 32 minutes, and tonight, we slipped a little bit,” Bulldogs’ interim coach Wally Barnett said. “The girls have bought into what we’re trying to do. They’re working hard, and that’s all we can ask for. They just come out every night and give it their all.”
Hollingsworth topped all scorers with 18 points. Hanceville teammate Bebe Flanigan, who completed a three-point play at the halftime buzzer and tossed in a putback as time ran out in the third quarter, was next in line with nine. Niya Evans and Kaela Hall chipped in five and three points, respectively.
“Overall, I’m real pleased with the effort,” Barnett said. “When it got tough there at the end, we fought back and hit some free throws down the stretch, which has been a problem over the years. To be 2-2 right now is something we’ve talked about.”
Wallace and Speer both corraled eight points for Vinemont (1-4), which also received contributions from Zoe Thomas (five points) and Carly Westmoreland, Autumn Barnette and Adamson (four apiece).
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.