clutch (kluch) adj. [Informal] — 1, designating or done in a critical situation; 2, likely to function well or be successful in such a situation.

Basketball isn't always about scoring points, it's about when the points are scored.

Who wanted the ball when the game was on the line?

Who had icy water flowing through their veins as the seconds ticked off the clock?

Who could take over a game at any moment?

Cullman senior guard Jesse Bouldin, Cold Springs senior guard Natalie Mullins and West Point senior center Amanda Scott were not only the top players in Cullman County, they were the most clutch. That is why these three hardwood stars have been named The Cullman Times' 2005-06 All-Area basketball Players of the Year.

There was also brilliance on the sidelines, with Cullman boys coach Mike Dean and Cold Springs girls coach Tammy West taking home The Times' Coach of the Year awards.

Boys Player of the Year: Jesse Bouldin

Early in the season, the Cullman Bearcats seemed to be lacking the one go-to player at the end of a ball game.

That is, until Jesse Bouldin took over the role.

"My goal was for us to win a state championship," Bouldin said. "I decided that I was one of the senior leaders and I needed to step it up to accomplish that goal."

And step up he did. Over the final two months of the season, "Big Shot" Bouldin hit numerous game-winning 3-pointers and lit up some of the top teams in Northwest Alabama to help the Bearcats win their second straight area tournament and sub-regional contest.

"The last half of the season, he was the guy that wanted the ball," said Cullman coach Mike Dean. "He stepped up when we needed him and was really clutch against quality teams."

No matter the situation, Bouldin remained calm and confident on the court, which led to his success late in games.

"You don't really have time to get nervous late in games," Bouldin said. "Those are the shots you dream of making your whole life and I enjoyed taking them."

Bouldin finished the season averaging 13.2 points, 3.3 assists and four steals per game.

"I always had faith in Jesse because he was such a hard worker," Dean said. "But I don't know if I've had a player down the stretch that was so clutch. Time after time after time, whether it was a steal or a three, he just made the big plays down the stretch. I think what surprised me the most is that he continually did it."

Bouldin hasn't received a scholarship offer because of his small size, but he is planning to try out at a few places, including Wallace State. Bouldin said he can bring a lot of the little things to a college basketball program.

"Mainly what I think I bring is knowledge of the game," Bouldin said. "I also try to help develop chemistry and lead the team. I may not be the best one-on-one player, but I can run the team with poise and be a coach on the floor."

Girls Co-Players of the Year: Natalie Mullins and Amanda Scott

Natalie Mullins and Amanda Scott were two completely different types of players.

Mullins was Cold Springs' feisty 5-foot-6 point guard, able to beat her opponents with outside shooting or driving to the hole. For the year, she averaged 16.8 points and 6.3 assists

Scott was the dominant 6-foot-1 force in the middle for West Point, featuring an assortment of post moves and rebounding tenacity to average 17.9 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.

But both players did have one thing in common — the ability to take over a game.

Scott rebounded from an injury plagued junior year to have a dominant senior season. The UAB signee also passed the career 1,000 point and rebound marks this year.

Scott led West Point to the team's first Cullman County championship since 1999 by scoring 22 of her 23 points after halftime in the championship game against Cold Springs.

West Point went on to win its area tournament and advanced to the Northwest Regional, before falling to eventual state champion Deshler.

Along with being named second team All-State, Scott was also the recipient of the Bill Shelton award for the top Cullman County girls player on and off the court.

"I think my senior year went pretty well," Scott said. "We did a lot of things we wanted to do as a team. Everything turned out all right."

Mullins recovered from the loss in the county championship game and hit a buzzer-beater against Cleveland to give the Lady Eagles the area championship.

"We called it for her," West said on the game-winning play designed for Mullins. "She made it happen."

Mullins went on to lead Cold Springs to a regional title and an appearance in the Class 2A Final Four.

She finished as Cold Springs' all-time leading scorer and was selected to first-team All-State and a finalist for 2A Player of the Year. With all of those accomplishments, Cold Springs coach Tammy West said Mullins will also be remembered as one of the schools' best all-time.

"Natalie is like my fourth daughter," West said. "That's the way its been for five years. I think she's definitely cemented her place up there with those girls from the 1999 team. It's going to be hard to see her go."

Despite all the awards and accomplishments throughout her career, Mullins remains modest and predicts the young stars on the Cold Springs roster will eventually break her records.

"Those young girls are coming after my records," Mullins said with a big smile on her face. "They are going to be good. Hopefully I've showed them that if they work hard they can be down here and maybe win Player of the Year."

Mullins will sign with Wallace State in the coming weeks.

Boys Coach of the Year: Mike Dean

The Cullman Bearcats were a bit of an unknown heading into the 2005-06 season, after losing eight seniors to graduation from the previous year's area championship team.

But head coach Mike Dean found a way to bring the team together for another 20-plus win season and an appearance in the Northwest Regionals for the second straight season.

"I thought all along that we had a chance to be successful, but I think we exceeded the expectations of most everybody," Dean said. "We had a really strong area this year and I thought our team chemistry was vital down the stretch when we made a run to the playoffs."

Perhaps most impressive was the Bearcats' second-straight area championship, which they had to win on the road after being swept by Walker in the regular season.

"When Walker came into our gym and beat us earlier in the year, it hurt our guys' feelings," Dean said. "It shook us up for a week or two, but it worked in our favor down the stretch. After we beat Gardendale soundly in the first round of the area tournament, we had confidence we could beat Walker — and we did."

Dean also pulled out a little bit of magic in the sub-regional contest against Muscle Shoals, calling an inbounds play named "Shotgun Trigger" which resulted in a Bearcat victory and a regional appearance.

Cullman (24-10) lost to eventual state champion Ramsay for the second straight season. But the Bearcats lost by only 10 points, less than the margin of victory for Ramsay's two Final Four contests.

"Last year we snuck up on them," Dean said. "I told our players after the game that if anything, we've shown Ramsay where Cullman is at on the basketball map. That says a lot with the type of tradition Ramsay has."

Dean credited the team's success this season to his seven seniors, along with assistant coaches Jonathan Hayes and Ty Campbell.

"I was very confident in all of my seniors," Dean said. "It's hard to win 24 games playing such a tough schedule, but it's because we had so many different people contributing to our success."

Girls Coach of the Year: Tammy West

The pressure was on Tammy West entering the 2005-06 season a year after being named The Times' girls Coach of the Year.

Featuring a squad with four seniors, including two future 2,000 career point scorers, West said she knew this year was her best chance to reach the Final Four since winning the state championship in 1999.

"We had really high expectations coming into the year," West said. "It would have been a letdown if we couldn't go down to Birmingham."

The Lady Eagles hit a bit of a road block when they lost to West Point in the Cullman County championship game, but West just reminded the team the same thing had occurred in 1999.

"Of course we wanted to win the county," West said, "but we also knew that wasn't the ultimate goal. I just explained to the girls that we lost to West Point in the county championship and 1999 and we ended the year with a state championship."

Cold Springs defeated Cleveland in the area tournament and again in the Northwest Regional finals to advance to the school's second Final Four in seven years.

The Lady Eagles fell short of winning the state championship, falling to eventual champ Samson by two points, but West said it was still a season to remember.

"These are great kids," West said. "They might not realize it yet, but later on they'll see that they accomplished so much in their careers."

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