- Cullman, Alabama

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November 30, 2013

HOLLY POND THANKSGIVING TOURNEY: Bearcats stave off Bronco comeback, own overtime to clinch title with 95-89 win

HOLLY POND — Same players. Same court. Same result.

But much closer contest. And far higher stakes.

Holly Pond erased a 14-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to force overtime, but Cullman made the most of the extra minutes, pulling away for a thrilling 95-89 win in the championship game of the Broncos’ 57th annual Thanksgiving Tournament on Friday night.

Lawson Schaffer showed out with 32 points, and Seth Swalve swooped in with 25 for the Bearcats, who capped off an extremely solid week of basketball with a fourth victory, fifth in a row and third of the three-day event.

The Black and Gold (5-3) started the stretch by overwhelming the Green and White 111-80 at Felton Easterwood Gymnasium on Monday. They advanced to the title tilt with a gritty 73-67 comeback versus Arab.

“Any time we beat a good Holly Pond team like that, it’s awesome. Even if it’s by 30 or one point, we’re happy with it,” Schaffer said. “It was one of the more fun games of the year for sure. Probably better than the first time we played, and that was a lot more fun to me. The competition level we just played at, that’s high, good basketball. That’s how you’re supposed to play.”

With his Broncos (5-2) trailing 67-53 entering the final frame of regulation, Colby Adams took matters into his own hands, taking off on an 11-point tear to pull the Green and White within six. Josh Horton sank a pair of free throws to tie the score at 70-all a short while later, setting the stage for a firestorm of lead changes — there were eight before overtime — that kept every fan and spectator on the edge of their seats till the very last second.

Lee Mattox tossed in a shot under the basket, and Keaton Dean made the front end of two attempts at the charity stripe to give Cullman an 83-81 advantage with 34.7 seconds remaining.

Austin Smith answered with a pair of successful free throws on the other end of the court, though, to pull Holly Pond even once again. Dauriel Harwood and Adams forced a jump ball when the Bearcats took back over to give the last possession to the Broncos, but a potential game-winner from Adams clanked off the rim to send the thriller into overtime.

Adams followed one point from Dean at the line with a layup to put the Green and White up early in the extra period. Lane Donaldson made sure it didn’t last long, however, calmly and collectively nailing his fifth and final 3-pointer of the evening to swipe the top score for good.

Swalve and Schaffer split the load in an 8-4 run that sealed the deal for the Black and Gold.

“Our guys battled. We had to gut it out because we knew Holly Pond was going to bring one of their best games tonight, and they did,” Cullman coach Bobby Meyer said. “We had a nice lead, and Holly Pond, to their credit, got right back on us, closed the gap and we had to win it in overtime.”

The triumph was meaningful enough on its own. But for it to have come against a squad that advanced to the Final Four last season and is “certainly one of the favorites to be back,” made it even sweeter for Meyer and Co.

“It’s always great to get a victory against a team that quality with kids who can play on any level,” the coach said. “I know they’re 3A, but those guys are good enough to start for most 6A schools.”

As he did earlier in the week, Meyer pointed out the efforts of a few standouts but made it clear that everyone on the roster was to thank for the successful outcome. He was especially proud of Donaldson and Dean, both three-year starters, as well as fellow seniors Austin Beck, Auston Neal and Lee Mattox.

“We had some great individual performances, but it was a team effort,” Meyer said. “We had a lot of great leadership from our five seniors.”

Donaldson accompanied Schaffer and Swalve in double figures with 15 points. Other Bearcat contributors were Mattox, seven points; Dean, Beck and Chase Slocumb, five apiece; and Neal, one.

Adams’ sparkling finish resulted in a 26-point outing for the Broncos. Smith wasn’t far back with 23 points, followed by Gunter Morris with 15 and Cody Jones, 12. Other Green and White contributors were Horton, eight points; Dauriel Harwood, four; and Nathan Duke, one.

Cullman will look to keep rolling when it picks up regular season play Tuesday at home against Gardendale. Holly Pond will host area-rival J.B. Pennington.

“If we’re healthy, I believe we’ll be this good,” Schaffer said. “We’ve just got to keep practicing hard, be focused, keep level-headed and just know that we have bigger things hopefully ahead of us.”

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