Hartselle and Cullman squared off in a 6A heavyweight battle to open area play this past Friday night. The two teams battled through four quarters, with the Tigers taking round one 52-50 to take the top spot in the area.
“It is nice to be back home and get a win over Cullman after playing 17 of our first 20 games on the road,” Hartselle coach Faron Key said. “We have a lot of scars and dents from the season, but we haven’t broken. The boys have shown a lot of resilience, especially following a 1-6 stretch over the last couple of weeks.”
The Tigers scored first and led 4-2 before Cullman hit a three-pointer to take their only lead of the game. Two Markus Tapscott free throws put the Tigers back in front and started a 9-3 Hartselle run to give Hartselle a 13-8 lead after the first quarter.
Rylan Smothers opened the second quarter with a three-pointer to extend the Tigers’ lead to 16-8. Cullman cut into the lead with five straight points, but Hartselle ended the short Bearcats’ rally with their own five consecutive points to make the score 21-13. However, Cullman outscored the Tigers 10-2 over the final couple of minutes to tie the game at 23-23 going into halftime.
“We knew what we had to do to win the game, and we did it,” Smothers said.
Both teams scored to open the third quarter to make the score 25-25. Hartselle then went on a 7-2 run to extend their lead to 32-27 in a low-scoring third quarter. Cullman sank three free throws to cut the lead to 32-30. The Tigers scored two consecutive baskets before Cullman hit a layup right before the buzzer to make the score 36-32 heading into the final quarter.
The Tigers opened the fourth quarter by extending their lead to 40-34 before the Bearcats scored five straight to cut the lead to 40-39. However, Hartselle responded with a 5-0 run to put the lead to 45-39 with 2:42 left. A Cullman 5-2 spurt made the score 47-44 with 1:01 left. After a Ty Odom layup and two free throws, the Tigers led 51-47 with 12.3 seconds left. The Bearcats hit a three to make the score 51-50. The Tigers shot four free throws in the final eight seconds, hitting just one to make the score 52-50. A desperate heave by the Bearcats went left of the basket as time expired.
“I knew that the game would be a game of runs, but I was confident in my team,” Odom said. “We played tonight like I thought we would and should have most of the season.”
Odom finished with 14 points to lead Hartselle (10-11). Smothers added 13 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals, while Tapscott had 10 points and seven rebounds.
“It is hard to say enough superlatives about Odom, Smothers and Tapscott,” Key said. “Ty was the best player on the court for long stretches of tonight’s game while Rylan just wants to win and he finds ways to do so. Markus has just scratched the surface of his potential and when he figures things out, he will be a big-time player for us.”
Brayden Thomas finished with eight points, one rebound, five assists, three steals and a block.
“We wouldn’t be discussing this win without Brayden Thomas,” Key said. “We ran the offense through him late in the game and he shined in that role.”
Aiden Pointer added four points and Kohl Key had three points and three steals.
Round two takes place Jan. 26 at Cullman.