Area play opened for the Hartselle Tigers as they traveled to Decatur for a matchup with the Red Raiders. The Tigers returned home with a 64-48 win and a 1-0 record in area play.
“We’ve battled so much adversity this season from injuries to sickness to the difficult schedule, and it’s made us a closer, stronger team,” said Hartselle coach Faron Key. “They play for each other, they love each other, they celebrate each other’s good play, and they got each other’s back. That togetherness means so much more than the wins because it isn’t common anymore. But this team is special to me. We’ve bent but have never broken in the face of that adversity.”
The Tigers opened the game on a 7-0 run powered by five points from Kohl Key. Decatur cut the lead to five with four straight points. A Ryan Dunn basket ended the Red Raiders run and gave the Tigers a 9-4 lead. The teams traded baskets to make the score 11-6. Ty Bachuss hit a three-pointer from the corner to make the score 11-9 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Kohl Key’s second three of the game started a 9-0 run for Hartselle. The Tigers’ lead was pushed to 20-9 following baskets from Thomas Itsede, Dunn, and Dominic Simmons. The Hartselle defense held the Red Raiders to five points in the quarter as the Tigers led 24-14, heading into halftime.
The game’s intensity started to increase as Decatur opened with a 4-0 run to cut the Tigers’ lead to 24-18 early in the third quarter. Hartselle responded with a 6-0 run, getting four points from Kohl Key and two from Dunn, making the score 30-18. The Red Raiders outscored Hartselle 6-1 over the next couple of minutes to make the score 31-24. Simmons, Kohl Key, and Kiah Key helped the Tigers close out the quarter on a 7-3 run to take a 38-27 lead into the final quarter.
Decatur cut the lead to 38-32 with a 5-0 run in the first 30 seconds of the fourth quarter. The teams traded 4-0 runs over the next couple of minutes, giving Hartselle a 42-36 lead. The Tigers extended the lead to 51-36 after hitting seven free throws and an Itsede basket. Decatur’s Stephen Mayfield ended the Hartselle run with a basket and a made free throw to cut the lead to 51-39. Dunn hat a layup and two free throws to give the Tigers a 55-39 lead. After a Jayden Brown basket, Hartselle reeled off seven of the following nine points to take a 64-43 lead with a minute to go. The Red Raiders scored the final five points to make the final score 64-48.
“Tonight’s game was very physical. I was proud of our guys for staying composed enough to continue to execute,” said coach Key. “ We didn’t play great offensively as we missed a lot of easy shots around the rim and made some uncharacteristic turnovers, so a lot to improve but was really pleased with our effort defensively.”
Dunn led the Tigers with 17 points. He finished with seven points in the fourth quarter after being on the wrong end of two hard fouls. He also had three rebounds, two assists, and a steal.
“I think tonight was one of those games we talk about being tougher than the other team, and we were the tougher team tonight,” said Dunn. “We kept telling each other to keep it about basketball and stay tough. Overall, it feels great to be 1-0 in the area. I am proud of my team!”
Kohl Key added 15 points after hitting three three-pointers. He also had two first-half steals to help the Tigers build their lead.
Kiah Key had nine points and 11 rebounds. He now has eight games this season with 10 or more rebounds.
“Winning at Decatur is always nice, and it being an area win is even nicer. They are a very good team,” said Kiah Key. “We love the 1-0 start in area play as it helps us toward some of our goals in winning the area championship and hosting the area tournament.”
Itsede finished with nine points, two rebounds, and two steals. Simmons and Luke Ward finished with six points each. Treyce Oden pulled down four rebounds and added two points.
Decatur (10-10, 0-1) was led by Jayden Brown, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. Isaiah Slaughter added 12 and Ellis Dickman had nine.
Hartselle (12-10, 1-0) will host 6A #8 Cullman (15-1, 1-0) on Friday night. The Bearcats are coming off a 72-43 win over Muscle Shoals.