HARTSELLE — Both teams fought all the way down the stretch in the Class 5A, Area 15 championship game, but it was Oakleigh White who helped Cullman High eke out the 25-24 win over Hartselle on Saturday night.
“I was absolutely just a grind-it-out win,” Cullman coach Jonathan Hayes said.
The lead switched 10 times during the game.
Hartselle’s Quanesha Burks amped up the pace in the third quarter to leave the Bearcats trailing by three, but Cullman (17-10) found the lead again after a 6-0 run, which was capped by two jumpers from Morgan Smith.
Hartselle (16-12) rebounded as Melissa Paul Hill and Shaneal Johnson each scored to keep the Tigers alive, but when a foul call sent White to the free-throw line with less than a minute left, the 5-foot-6 sophomore sunk two clutch free throws, handing Cullman with the area title.
“We knew what we had to do on defense, just keep them from splitting us, because they’re a really quick team,” said Smith, who had a game-high 13 points and four steals. “We just had to run our plays right and take care of the ball.”
“We just had a tough time making shots,” Hartselle coach Gary Orr said. “Both teams played hard. There isn’t any question about that. They made the plays, and we didn’t.”
Burks scored three points in the loss, with four rebounds and two steals, while Hill scored seven points with three boards. The Tigers also played without starter Allie Roden, who suffered an injury Thursday.
“When she’s in the game, we can’t even press because she just dribbles right through us. It’s hard to guard her, very hard,” said Smith of Burks.
Smith had a strong performance for the Bearcats, opening with seven points in the first quarter and helping lead a zone defense that kept Hartselle out of the lanes and off the scoreboard.
Christina Skinner, Hayden Short and White each added four.
Not disappointed in his team’s effort, Orr said he is ready to see what Hartselle will do next.
“We just have to get over this one and get ready for the next one,” he said.
Meredith Qualls can be reached at 256-340-2395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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