In 2008, it turned out to be a turning point. One year later, Chase Mathis and Drew Bryson provided an exclamation point.

Now all Cullman High’s baseball team needs is more of the same — especially in tight games.

In its final contest at the 2009 Hoover Buccaneer Classic, Cullman (15-9) got standout performances from the usual suspects, taking a 9-1 win over Prattville Thursday afternoon in metro Birmingham.

Leading the offense was Mathis, who highlighted a seven-run fifth-inning rally with a grand slam to left center field. Mathis — who also swatted a grand slam during the Bearcats’ win over Madison Academy on Wednesday — added a two-run double in the fourth and finished with six RBIs.

Meanwhile, Bryson dominated on the mound, giving up just five hits and an unearned run in a dominating, seven-inning performance.

Not a bad way to close out a week that saw Cullman go 4-3 against some of the top teams in the state. But then again, compared to last season, 4-3 is practically a flawless performance.

“This was the turning point for us last year,” first-year Bearcats coach Brent Patterson told his players after arriving back in Cullman. “After this we ripped off several in a row. And it all started here.”

Following a poor showing in the tournament a year ago, then-head coach Bryan Bowen announced his intentions — while still on the bus ride back home — to take a team to Montgomery’s Paterson Field for the Class 5A finals, with or without the team.

The challenge worked. After that bus trip, the Bearcats lost just a handful of times the rest of the year on its way to a second consecutive Class 5A state title.

This time around, there was a new head coach. And a new message.

Despite winning four games — and getting solid pitching and defense in the process — Patterson wanted his team to focus.

That, and get a few clutch hits in tight games.

“We are literally one hit away from everyone being able to relax and say, ‘Whew, we got a hit with runners in scoring position,” Patterson said. “If there’s one lesson learned from this tournament, it’s that you don’t let frustration get to you.”

The frustration came during Cullman’s three losses during the tournament, including a 10-2 setback against Grissom in Thursday’s opening game. Forefront among the Bearcats’ worries is driving in runners in close games — something that’s plagued Patterson’s squad all year.

So while Mathis’ grand slam wasn’t the icing on a perfect week in metro Birmingham, it could turn out to be the oomph Cullman needs to jumpstart its offense.

“He’s killing the ball right now,” said Bryson. “He’s really seeing the ball well right now. It really helps us out.”

According to Mathis, Bryson’s strong pitching helps the hitters relax.

“(Bryson) has three pitches going, and he can throw a strike at any time,” said Mathis, who now has three grand slams on the season. “He really dials it up out there.”

Patterson agreed.

“Drew hasn’t had a bad outing,” he said. “In fact, he’s getting better every time out. Today he located three pitches on the plate and was in total command the whole game.”

If the Bearcats want to repeat last year’s post-Hoover run, Bryson’s dominating performance is exactly the type of pitching they’ll need.

And, if you’re Brent Patterson, it’s exactly the type of pitching you’ve seen a lot of so far this season thanks to the efforts of Kyle Johnson, Kalen Elam, Daniel Moore and others.

“Our formula is always the same: Pitching, defense and hitting. And right now, we’re getting the pitching and defense,” Patterson said. “We just need that one hit.”

Cullman returns to action Tuesday for a Class 5A, Area 12 matchup at Curry. The Bearcats then host Curry on Thursday before a Saturday showdown against Hillcrest at Bill Shelton Field.

‰ Michael Cummings can be reached by email at

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