By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
The Cullman boys’ basketball team built up a big first half lead and rode stellar guard play late to hold on for a season-opening 59-53 win over Brewer on Thursday night.
The Bearcats’ lead hovered around 10 points for most of the second half until the Patriots cut the deficit to five with under a minute left.
However, Cullman made its free throws down the stretch and held on for a six-point victory.
The Bearcats dominated the first-half scoring, particularly in the second quarter, outscoring Brewer 23-16 en route to a 33-21 halftime lead.
“We played a good first half,” coach Bobby Meyer said. “Got a little sloppy in the second half though and could never really stretch out our lead late in the game.”
Brewer was able to close that gap in the second half in large part due to the efforts center Cody Benitez, whose 20 points led the way for the Patriots.
However, it wasn’t enough as Cullman’s Lawson Schaffer and Seth Swalve accounted for 17 of the Bearcats’ 26 second-half points.
“Our young guys really played well tonight,” Meyer said. “They made a few mistakes, but they played pretty well.”
Schaffer, a sophomore, had a team-high 15 points, 14 of which came in the second half, while freshman Seth Swalve had 12 points in his first varsity contest.
Other Cullman contributors included Auston Neal, who scored nine points and Austin Beck, who added eight.
The Bearcat victory came without the aide of their two big men, Troy Forrest and Houston Turner, both of whom are still suiting up at wide receiver for the school’s football team.
“Our identity tonight isn’t what it’ll be later in the season,” Meyer said. “When we get our football guys back, we will be little bit more of a different team.”
The last time Brewer and Cullman faced off was in last February’s Northwest Regional final when the Patriots edged the Bearcats 56-53 in an overtime heartbreaker.
Nine months later, it wasn’t even close.
Defending Class 5A state champion Brewer routed Cullman 62-27 before the varsity boys took the floor.
All-State Brewer center Riley Northway scored 18 points to guide her team to an easy victory.
The Bearcats were able to keep it somewhat close in the first half, despite committing 12 turnovers and making just five field goals.
Trailing 30-16 to start the third quarter, the Patriots put their foot on the gas, outscoring Cullman 32-11 in the final 16 minutes.
“They’re a good team,” coach Jonathan Hayes said. “We stuck with them in the first part of the game, but they were just able to slowly stretch out their lead as the game went on.”
Hayes said Brewer was able to get the Bearcats out of their gameplan in the second half.
“Good teams will do that to you,” he said. “A lot of the little things we did wrong tonight, we can go back and get fixed as the season continues.”
Baylee Johnson was the leading scorer for Cullman, collecting 11 points.
Morgan Smith, who put up 30 in last year’s final meeting, was held to just nine points this time around.
Next up for both Cullman squads will be Arab at home next Tuesday night.
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.