By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Tuesday’s county contest against heated-rival Holly Pond was about much more than basketball for Fairview.
It was Joe Shults Night, a time for the Aggies to dedicate their renovated hardwood to the man of the hour and, more importantly, continue an annual tradition of remembering the iconic coach who cared so dearly about the Purple and Gold program.
Though Shults sadly passed away in early July, his spirit was alive and well Tuesday in the gymnasium that will forever bear his name.
There were his family members, complete with Bobbie, whose birthday just so happened to fall on the same evening her husband of 66 years was being honored. There was a bevy of former players — and at least one rival coach — on hand to pay respects to the man they once knew simply as “Coach Joe.”
And on the court, there was Shults’ signature red tie, worn by first-year Fairview coach Kurt Knight and his staff. The matching red socks Shults always sported were clear to see on the legs of the proud Aggie players — both boys and girls — otherwise draped in the customary purple, gold and white.
Not to be left out, Holly Pond’s boys joined in the celebration by using the fast break — Shults’ bread and butter — to overtake Fairview by a 78-57 final.
Following an inspired first half that saw the Aggies enter the locker room down just 35-32, the Broncos (8-3) picked up the pace on both sides of the ball to overwhelm the home team over the next 16 minutes. They used a dominant 26-10 third quarter to pull away for good.
Coach Mitch Morris is content any time his Green and White squad can notch a win against Fairview. However, the fact this triumph came on Joe Shults Night made it all the more special.
“He’s a legendary coach in this county, and I have the utmost respect for him,” Morris said of Shults. “Even though I didn’t get to go against him, my dad, my uncles and cousins all did, and I’ve heard about him all my life. It’s just somebody I admire.”
The big three of Colby Adams, Austin Smith and Gunter Morris established themselves as a trio to be feared during Holly Pond’s journey to the state tournament last year. Toss in the emergence of Cody Jones so far this season, as well as the solid contributions of Dauriel Harwood as a fifth starter and a few players off the bench, and the Broncos appear to be on track for similar success.
That potential was on display for three quarters of Tuesday’s ballgame.
Adams went off for all three of his 3-pointers and 17 of his team-high 20 points in the first half, while Smith (17 points), Morris (13) and Jones (11) spread their double-digit efforts a bit more evenly. Smith rounded out a double-double with 10 rebounds, six of which were offensive. Adams came close to pulling off the feat as well with eight boards.
Other Green and White contributors were Harwood, eight points; Chase Allbright, five; and Jacob Jones and Nathan Duke, two apiece.
“It’s special for us because we’ve got four guys who can score. It’s hard for any opponent to stop one of them,” the coach said of the reliable balance between Adams, Smith, Morris and Jones. “If one’s having a little down time, somebody’s going to pick up the slack for them. They just complement each other so well.”
After sprinting out to a 29-21 advantage at the end of the first quarter, Holly Pond had a letdown in the second similar to the 24-minute stretch it experienced in a two-point loss to Cold Springs last week.
As the intensity waned, so did the Broncos’ offensive production. They scored just six points to Fairview’s 11 in the second stanza.
“We had such a good first quarter and then it just stopped. I’ve got to figure that out,” Morris said. “But we came back in the second half and started playing like we’re supposed to. We’ve got to get that one little thing straightened out.”
Every time the Green and White looked like they were going to pull away in the first half, the heavy-hearted Aggies seemed to will themselves back into contention.
Tyler Yearwood and Sid Smith helped the Purple and Gold open the contest on a 7-0 run. A 3-pointer from Jackson Smith shortly before halftime cut Fairview’s deficit to one, its smallest after Harwood made an inside shot for what turned out to be the game-winning basket midway through the first frame.
Aggie sharpshooter Elijah Garrison capped off an emotional evening with a team-high 17 points. The senior first became acquainted with Shults at church and, up until the legend's passing, visited “Coach Joe” at least two to three times a month to talk about life and basketball.
Garrison helped the Purple and Gold win the last Cullman County basketball championship Shults was alive for. He was also the first at halfcourt before Tuesday’s boys game to hand Ms. Bobbie a bouquet of flowers and offer the birthday girl and her family a barrage of hugs.
“It’s amazing just because of the man he was and what he stood for,” Garrison said of his final Joe Shults Night as a prep athlete. “It’s great to play in memory of him.”
Yearwood joined Garrison in double figures with 13 points and collected eight rebounds.
Other Fairview contributors were Sid Smith, seven points; Chance Hill and Jackson Smith, six each; Hunter Brewer, four; and Ethan Widner, two.
The Aggies will travel to Fairview Thursday, while Holly Pond will head back home to resume area play Friday against Brindlee Mountain.
% Holly Pond 62, Fairview 35: There was a time when Meg Gambrill would get flustered by an intense talking-to from Scott Adams.
These days, she just thrives on them.
According to the longtime Broncos’ coach, the junior sensation now just gets mad and “shuts me up by the way she plays.”
That certainly turned out to be the case on Tuesday night, even if Adams didn’t keep up his end of the deal by staying completely quiet.
When Gambrill picked up her second foul of the first quarter, a common occurrence thus far this season, Adams let his superstar know he was displeased. Instead of sulking, though, the versatile guard turned the constructive criticism into motivation for an explosive 28-point performance.
Gambrill was superb in nearly every statistical category, shooting 5 of 6 from behind the arc and 10 of 13 overall from the field, pulling down six rebounds and swiping three steals, the most impressive a laser of a pass she practically snatched straight from a Fairview player’s hands.
“Meg played an outstanding game, and she’s been playing very well for us. She’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Adams said. “She’s just really matured into a player that we depend on. She’s a good leader for us.
“Meg’s put a lot of time into it, and she’s reaping the rewards.”
Arguably the most impressive aspect of the outburst was that Gamrbill was really only on the floor for a little more than two quarters. Foul trouble forced Adams to send her to the bench for the majority of the second and fourth frames.
“I’m excited about her 28 points, but I’m still probably more frustrated over her continuing to get two fouls in the first quarter of every game,” the coach said with a laugh.
Though Gambrill was obviously the driving force, she was far from the only Green and White girl who had a hand in the squad’s fourth straight win.
Rachel Finley was next in line with nine points and a team-high four steals, while Melissa Clingman came through with eight points and eight rebounds. Natasha Holcombe wasn’t shabby herself, cleaning up 10 boards and tacking on seven points. Kaitlyn Stephens and Abby Gambrill both contributed five points.
Ever the perfectionist, Meg Gambrill still sees room for Holly Pond, now 10-2, to improve.
“We still have some things to work on,” she said. “Our defense is great, but offense, we aren’t playing to our full potential. We’re good, but we’re just scratching the surface.”
Taylor Ann Yeager’s 12 points were tops for Fairview, which was coming off its second win of the season Monday versus Dora. Dalys Mullican chipped in nine points, and Desiree Wilhite snagged 10 rebounds — five offensive — to go along with a six-point effort.
Other Aggie contributors were Kennedy Trimble, five points; Marlana Johnson, two points and seven rebounds; and Lizzie Garrison, one point.
Junior Varsity Boys
% Holly Pond 71, Fairview 51: Drew Jones decided to bring the wet weather inside for a bit Tuesday night, making it rain with an insane 10 3-pointers to extend the Broncos’ season-opening win streak to 10.
Jones made half of his treys in the first quarter, a pair in the third and three in the fourth in an eye-popping 34-point outing. Bailey Smith and Matt Cahoon chipped in 13 and 11 points, respectively, for the Green and White.
Austin Harris led the way for the Aggies with 14 points. Akil Parham added nine.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.