MONTGOMERY — It's been a monkey on the back of Cullman High’s baseball program for five years.

It was the expectation put on the Bearcats back in February when they came out of the gates ranked No. 1 in the state.

And it's always the goal for Cullman’s baseball team.

Then Saturday afternoon, it was the extra item coach Bryan Bowen put in his bag when the team prepared to head home from Paterson Field after sweeping Bibb County in the 5A finals with a 10-1 win.

The one item the Bearcats had their eyes on all season was the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s blue map. And after Saturday’s win, Cullman’s baseball program has another one to place in the trophy case at the high school.

"I cannot say enough about this group of guys that won this thing," Bowen said after the game. "We were ranked No. 1 all year and ranked nationally, and we knew everybody was going to be gunning for us. It was tough for us to go through the schedule we had this season, but this makes it all worth it.

"It's kind of sad because we knew either way, this was going to be the end today."

Carrying a 10-0 lead into the sixth inning, Cullman actually had a chance to end the game early. But Bibb County got two runners on and Cannon McDonald's single to right field brought one of the runners home to extend the game.

Matt Drake, who pitched all seven innings, said he was not worried about the run in the top of the seventh inning.

"I thought a little bit about last year when we lost to Stanhope, but I was not worried about it at all," Drake said. "We were up by nine and we've got a great defense playing behind me.

"That seventh inning was the most confident I have felt all season about one inning. I was locating well, and all my pitches were working."

Drake went out to close the game, and the first two batters flew out to Jacob Smith in right field and Kyle McSwain in centerfield. But Ryan Lawley kept the inning alive by reaching base on a slow roller between the pitcher’s mound and third base

Drake almost recorded the final out when Jon Underwood popped up a foul ball near Cullman's dugout. But the ball landed on the roof about two inches out of catcher Chris Cain's reach.

"I didn't think I had a chance for it at first," Cain said. "But then I found it and stretched as much as I could to catch it. It was just out of my reach."

That’s when Drake forced Underwood to hit a grounder to Josh Rutledge, who threw the ball to second baseman Matt Lee — playing for series MVP John Nyquist — for the final out of the game.

And then the celebration began.

"That may be the most amazing thing I'll ever experience," Lee said about making the final out in the state championship series. "I know I'll never forget it, but it hasn't hit me yet that this is the end for us."

Cullman scored one run in the first inning when Blake Huddleston drove Nyquist in with a sacrifice fly.

Cullman added two more runs in the second inning when Austin Golden and Nyquist crossed the plate.

The Bearcats weren’t able to add to the lead until the fifth inning when Josh Huddleston singled up the middle to bring Rutledge home.

With Bibb County’s pitching staff having trouble finding the strike zone in the sixth inning, Cullman poured the offense on with six runs. Patrick Britton reached on an error and got to third on wild pitches. Britton crossed the plate when Nyquist recorded an RBI single. A double by Cain and a walk by Rutledge loaded the bases for Drake, who pushed a run across the plate by drawing a walk.

The Bearcats then had a scary moment when Blake Huddleston was hit in the head with a pitch. After taking a minute to make sure he was all right, Huddleston went on to first base.

"It was a fast ball high and in, and I only had time to turn my head," Huddleston said. "It's not as bad as it probably looked."

Rutledge later scored on a wild pitch before Josh Bell scored on a grounder and Blake Huddleston came around to score on a passed ball.

When all was said and done, Bowen, who seemed to be on pins and needles throughout the season and playoffs, said he could finally relax — for a little while at least.

"We're going to take some time to enjoy this," Bowen said. "But I'll probably go ahead and start tomorrow on getting ready for next year."

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