By JASON KING
Senior night became a statement match for the Cabot Lady Panthers on Thursday.
Although mired in seventh place in the 7A-Central standings, the Lady Panthers showed they are not to be counted out of the state tournament chase with a 3-0 sweep over North Little Rock at Panther Pavilion, taking a dominant and emotional victory, 25-22, 25-18, 25-19.
Senior hitter Ashley Daniels ripped the Lady Wildcats with a match-high 17 kills, plus two aces and four blocks, two of which were assisted. Teammate Jenny Evans was not far behind with 13 kills, two aces and three blocks, including two assisted.
The Lady Wildcats (4-7 in conference) jumped to an early 5-1 lead in the first game before the Lady Panthers (2-9) took over the match. A kill by Evans tied the score 12-12 and a scorching kill by Daniels gave Cabot its first lead of the night.
“We were playing with more intensity tonight,” Cabot coach Terry Williams said. “This is their last home game. We have six seniors. Of course, that’s motivation right there.
“We didn’t have those dips like we usually do. We kind of stayed at a high level and played more consistently throughout the match.”
Cabot answered North Little Rock’s strongest hitting threat with blocker Carlee Wright, who stopped a number of solid attempts to keep the Lady ’Cats off balance. Wright finished the night with five blocks, one assisted.
“You look at the first time we played teams in the conference and the second time we’ve gone through, we’re scoring a lot more points,” Williams said. “We’ve been gradually improving — just slowly but surely.”
Daniels and Evans took turns dominating the net with their rotations in Game 2. Evans scored two straight kills to give the Lady Panthers a 9-4 lead early, and Daniels took over in the late stages with a pair of kills to give the Lady Panthers an 18-12 lead, and she scored two of Cabot’s final three points with kills.
“She did a good job,” Williams said of Daniels. “She’s been working on her hitting, trying to stay aggressive up there. She had some difficulties a couple of matches ago, but she’s fixed it. She was up there swinging tonight.”
Stevie Brock also gave North Little Rock’s defense fits from the left side in the second game. Brock scored twice on a pair of cross-court smashes, and scored another point with a shot behind her back that the Lady Wildcats did not return. The Lady Panthers also had a good performance at the service line by Brylee Staten.
Other contributors for Cabot were Chloe Eifling, Kori Maloy and Lauren Hardiman.
The Lady Wildcats hung around in Game 3 until the Lady Panthers went on a 9-3 run in the final stages. Daniels drilled one last kill to end it and began a celebration that included as many tears as it did smiles.
“They were crying in practice today around noon, so I knew it was going to be rough,” Williams said. “They were excited, and the younger girls did a great job with their intensity on the bench. It makes a difference when those little ones are cheering their hearts out too. I thought it was a good group effort.”
The victory still leaves Cabot in seventh place, five points behind Little Rock Hall, 37 to 32, in the 7A-Central standings with three matches remaining. Williams said the fight to secure the sixth and final tournament seed is still alive.
“I think mathematically we can, but we’ve got to get some wins,” Williams said. “We’ve got to get at least two more wins the rest of the season. It’s going to be hard, but it’s not impossible.”