ATHENS — It had something to do with scoring, and everything to do with rebounds as Athens High dominated the rebounds to top Cullman 57-39 in the Class 5A North sub-regional game. "We talked about before the game, if you can beat them off the glass and on the defensive end, we can beat anybody," Athens coach Stace Tedford said.
Cullman grabbed the lead at the front, as Keaton Dean drained a 3-pointer to open scoring early. Nathanial Potts landed eight of Athens' 10 points in the first quarter, with two 3-pointers, but after the first quarter the Bearcats (19-12) stayed ahead 15-10.
"They came in ready to play, and they made shots," Tedford said. "That's what they do."
The lead was soon dissolved, as Athens (24-7) tightened its defense and vaulted in the second quarter, going on a 17-2 scoring drive to run away with the game.
"We just had to lock up and not let them score," Nathanial Potts said.
Trey Potts nailed a jumper to start the engines, then Jackson Pettus stepped in with eight points to bring Athens over. Trey Potts dunked one more, giving Athens the 27-17 lead at half.
"It was pretty fun, just making all those shots and getting our team going, riding off that momentum," said Pettus, who scored a game-high 20 points.
After the half, more pressure from both teams turned the scoring down, but Athens stayed ahead as it went 16-for-24 from the free throw line. For the game, Athens beat Cullman off the glass 41-29.
"They brought out their pressure more," Pettus said of Cullman's second-half switch. "They brought out more pressure on ball, and they didn't want any open shots."
Athens was challenged by Cullman point guard Lawson Schaffer, who scored eight points in the game. Two players recorded double-doubles, as Nathanial Potts scored 16 points with 11 rebounds, and Houston Turner scored 11 points with 12 rebounds. Johnnie Anderson helped Athens with several defensive stops on Schaffer.
With the win, Athens advances to play Parker in the regional tournament at Wallace State at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
As the team returns to regionals for the second straight year, Tedford said the Golden Eagles are well-prepared for the environment.
"We've already played there three times this year, so our kids feel very comfortable going down there," he explained. "(Parker is) very athletic and physical. I think it's going to be a very good test for our kids."
After visiting last year, Pettus agreed that having already played in regionals gives the team an advantage.
"I'm really happy to go to Wallace again after last year. I'm glad to go back," he said. "I definitely feel more experienced."
Meredith Qualls can be reached at 256-340-2395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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