By Jonathan Deal
EAST LIMESTONE —
Cullman and East Limestone could have played all night and nobody would have complained. They nearly did, in a double-overtime thriller in which Cullman emerged the winner by the narrowest margins.
In a game that featured dozens of lead changes, it was the Bearcats that left East Limestone with a 92-89 double overtime victory and 5A Area 15 championship.
“That was just two good teams going against one another,” said East Limestone head coach Chad Drake. “They’ve got some good shooters. We couldn’t guard them in the perimeter and they couldn’t guard us in the paint.”
It was a battle of contrasting styles, with Cullman’s “Fast 32” running up and down the court against East Limestone’s half court offense. As much as East Limestone tried to slow it down, the Indians had no answer for Seth Swalve and Lawson Schaffer.
The duo combined for 69 points to lead Cullman to victory. Swalve scored a game-high 36 points and Schaffer poured in 33 more.
“Sometimes, you just get in a mode,” said Swalve. “It feels like every shot you put up is going to go in. My teammates did good job of getting me the ball to hit those shots. Coach told us before the game, ‘Big players make big plays,’ and I’d like to think we did that tonight.”
Swalve scored 19 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to help the Bearcats keep pace and eventually pull away from the host.
After Jordon Gandy drove to the basket to put East ahead 83-82 less than a minute into double-overtime, Swalve anwered with a 3-pointer to put Cullman back in the lead. The sophomore then made 4 of 4 free throw attempts in the final minute to seal the victory.
Cullman hit 32 of 36 free throw attempts (88%) for the game while East was 16 for 29 (55%).
“We like to use our contrasting style to create mismatches,” said Cullman coach Bobby Meyer. “East Limestone was able to hang with us for most of the night because they’ve got good guards. Gandy is a great player, but their other guys do a good job too. That was fantastic effort and either team could have won the game.”
Gandy led East Limestone with 25 points. Devin Davis scored 16 while DeAnte Griffith and Nick Wash added 14.
East Limestone led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter before Cullman came storming back just before halftime to trail by just two entering halftime. Schaffer hit a 3-pointer moments into the third quarter to give the Bearcats their first lead of the game and it was a back-and-forth game from that point.
“We would like to play-up tempo most of the time, but they take it to the extreme,” said Drake. “We wanted to run our half-court offense against them and we were able to do that at times. We built a 10 point lead there in the first half and gave it right back to them. We turned it over three straight possessions and they took advantage.”
The teams entered the fourth-quarter tied 57-57 before Swalve buried a 3-pointer to open the fourth. Jarrett Fox and Gandy quickly erased Cullman’s largest lead of the game on consecutive baskets with just over a minute to play to tie the game at 70-70.
Following a quick basket from Swalve, Fox hit a pair of free throws to send the game into overtime.
After trailing for most the fourth quarter, it was East Limestone that led in the first overtime period thanks to some clever play between Gandy and Davis. The pair hooked up on consecutive baskets to put the home team up 78-74 with 1:38 to play.
Swalve answered with back-to-back 3-pointer to regain the lead for Cullman with 30 seconds to play. Jordon Gandy then hit 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game and send into a second overtime.
East Limestone will travel to No. 3 Athens for a sub-region playoff game Friday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. No. 10 Cullman will host Muscle Shoals.