Tuesday, April 14, 2009

SPORTS >> Van Buren hurler puts clamps on Cabot bats

Leader sports editor

Between a bad strain of mononucleosis and an overpowering Van Buren pitcher, the Cabot Panthers find themselves reeling at just the wrong time.

The Panthers dropped their third in a row when Van Buren fireballer Brandon Moore shut them down on two hits on Saturday in a 4-0 Pointer win.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been overpowered like that,” said Cabot head coach Jay Fitch, whose Panthers fell to 3-5 in the 7A Central and 11-7 overall. “That guy was everything he was cracked up to be.”

The tall hurler has been clocked at 92 miles per hour and held Cabot to lone hits by Joe Bryant and Powell Bryant. He also struck out 10.

The Panthers have been decimated by mono, which has kept Matthew Turner out of the lineup for the past two weeks and Ben Wainwright out for a couple of games.

“I’ve got my fingers crossed that Ben and (third baseman) Ty Steele will be cleared to play (against North Little Rock last night),” Fitch said. “Otherwise, we may have to play a lot of junior varsity kids again. It’s been a tough week-and-a-half.”

The Panthers, expected to compete for a Central title with North Little Rock and Bryant, were decimated last fall by the loss of two key players when Matt Evans and Jackson Chism moved. An injury to critical two-hole hitter Powell Bryant caused him to miss the first 12 games and Matt Williams has been out for much of the season with illness.

It’s do-or-die time now for the Panthers, whose final four games are tough ones, starting with first-place North Little Rock yesterday. The Panthers host Little Rock Central on Thursday, and finish out league play with North Little Rock, Bryant and Van Buren next week and Conway on April 28.

Against Van Buren, Tyler Erickson was solid on the mound, allowing single runs in the first and sixth innings and two in the third. Fitch called on sophomore Cole Nicholson against a tough Charging Wildcats club yesterday.

“Cole has been lights out for us a couple of games this year, and then there have been other times he really struggled,” Fitch said. “If he starts out pretty good he can be tough.”

Cabot is tied for the sixth and final state tournament seed with Van Buren, while Central is a half-game ahead of both teams at 4-5.

“In my 10 years of coaching, I’ve only not made the tournament one time, so we really want to get healthy and get in there,” Fitch said. “It’s crunch time for us.”