Hartselle boys get 20th win, area title
By Mark Edwards
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HARTSELLE — The gym at Hartselle High had started to clear out, but boys basketball coach Johnny Berry remained behind to speak with a couple of visitors.
Tigers center Jackson Holmes interrupted the meeting, but he had good reason — he wanted to give the Class 5A, Area 13 championship plaque to his coach.
"This is for you, coach," Holmes said with a smile before running off to rejoin some of his teammates.
Holding the plaque, Berry struggled to hold in his emotions. They overcame him for a moment, and he turned away from his visitors to gather himself again.
"I'm so proud of this team," Berry said.
And with good reason. Monday's 49-46 win over Cullman not only gave Hartselle the area tournament championship, but it also marked Hartselle's 20th victory — a good bit more than a year ago when the Tigers limped through a 2-25 season.
"Our mantra all season has been 'Two to 20,' " Berry said. "We wanted to go from two wins to 20, and we did that with this game. Not only did we win an area championship, but we met our goal. I'm really proud of this team for that accomplishment."
Neither Hartselle (20-12) nor Cullman (16-16) took control until the Tigers did so in the fourth quarter.
With the two teams knotted at 36 with 3:59 to play, Hartselle went on a 6-1 run that gave the Tigers control of the game.
That gave them a 42-37 advantage with fewer than three minutes to play, and a Cullman turnover gave them the ball, too.
That marked an important moment in Berry's game plan.
"If we had a five-point lead and the ball, we were going to put the ball in the freezer," he said. "We shoot free throws well, so we were going to hold the ball."
Hartselle played keep-away, and the strategy worked. In the final two minutes, the Tigers didn't attempt a field goal, but they made seven of the eight free throws they attempted.
Cullman managed to cut the final margin to three points only after sinking a 3-pointer and a 2-pointer in the final 10 seconds.
Berry credited his players for executing a solid defensive plan in the final quarter, too. Assistant coach Gary Orr had recommended switching from man-to-man to a zone, and Cullman struggled at times against the new defense. "We thought it would give them a different look, and it was good for us," Berry said.
Holmes finished with a game-high 16 points for Hartselle, including eight in the final quarter. Alex Brown added 11 points, and Victor Stansberry had 10.
Jacob Lovetto and Kyle McSwain each had 11 points for Cullman, and Dylan Smith pitched in 10.
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