Saturday, January 12, 2008

SPORTS >> Lady Panthers hold off Mount St. Mary despite injury bug

Leader sportswriter

The Belles won the free-throw shooting contest late, but it still wasn’t enough to overcome Cabot on Tuesday night at the MSM gymnasium. The Lady Panthers dominated the inside to take a 57-53 win, improving their 7A-Central Conference record to 2-0.

Momentum from their win a few days earlier against preseason favorite Conway helped carry the Lady Panthers, but that win was not without a tremendous sacrifice. Cabot had to face the Belles without the services of senior post Rachel Glover, who went down with a knee injury late during the win over Conway.

The prognosis was a torn knee ligament, meaning the Lady Panthers’ best defender and solid rebounder will have to sit out the rest of the season. It marked the seventh season-ending injury for Cabot — all seniors.

“It’s a very unusual situation,” Lady Panthers assistant coach Charles Ruple said. “I’ve never seen that many players go down like that, especially considering they’re all seniors. Rachel has been very consistent for us defensively, and one of our better rebounders.

“She had to play big a lot; she had to take on other teams’ big girls and defend them, and always performed well. Her sister Stephanie did a good job of filling in for her, and we had a couple of others come off the bench and play strong.”

Two subs that have seen plenty of playing time throughout the early season, Morgan Verkler and Sara Moore, will now be on the court even more, according to Ruple.

“Morgan played one of her best games on Tuesday,” Ruple said of the senior’s eight-point performance. “And Sara has been playing a lot better. We’ve had other coaches come up and comment how much better Sara looks over last year when she was a freshman.”

The biggest inside performance came from junior post player Shelby Ashcraft, who dominated the offensive block for 20 points against the Belles. The strong inside play from Glover and Ashcraft led to a 25-18 lead for Cabot.

The Lady Panthers looked poised to pull away late, building a 43-30 lead at the end of the third quarter, but MSM was far from ready to concede.

“Free throw shooting is what kept them in the game,” Ruple said. “We didn’t shoot very well from the line ourselves. We had just come out of a game where we went 15 of 16 from the line, but we didn’t come close to that on Tuesday.”

Along with 20 points from Ashcraft, senior guard Leah Watts scored 13 points, while South Alabama signee Lauren Walker added 12. Verkler rounded out high scorers with eight points. The win improves the Lady Panthers’ record to 12-5 overall and 2-0 in the 7A-Central Conference.

The Panthers matched Catholic for two-and-a-half quarters, but late defensive woes allowed the Rockets to pull away for a 61-50 on Tuesday. It was still a close contest at the end of the third quarter, with Catholic holding a slim 44-40 lead, but the Rockets dominated the final eight minutes on their way to handing Cabot an early 0-2 league record.

Panthers coach Jerry Bridges says the start to their 7A-Central campaign is a little disappointing, but that there’s still a lot of basketball to be played.

“We’re going to get there,” Bridges said. “We just need to stop having these defensive breakdowns. You have to step up your defense when you get down to the last minutes, and carry that intensity for the whole game. You can’t let up in 7A basketball; you have to go the whole 32 minutes.”

Miles Monroe led the Panthers with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Junior Adam Sterrenberg added 11 points, and senior post Sam Bates finished with six points. The loss drops the Panthers’ record to 10-5 overall and 0-2 in the 7A-Central Conference.

The Cabot teams played at North Little Rock last night, and will take Tuesday off for semester testing before resuming play Friday at Bryant.