Tuesday, May 03, 2011

SPORTS >> Panthers stop ’Cats

Leader sports editor

The miracle isn’t so much that Cabot essentially won the first game of its 7A-Central doubleheader sweep of North Little Rock on a two-run inning with no hits.

The miracle is that Cabot got the games played at all.

The Panthers beat the Charging Wildcats 5-0 in a long-delayed matchup at Conrade Field on Saturday, taking the lead it never lost thanks to North Little Rock miscues in the fourth, and squeaking out the game without a delay despite wind gusts and intermittent showers.

“We’ve been dodging it, man,” Panthers coach Jay Fitch said. “We kept looking at the radar.”

The game had been delayed twice by rain, forcing the rare Saturday matchup that followed Cabot’s doubleheader conference loss at Conway, 9-6 and 2-0 on Thursday, a meeting that was also pushed back by weather.

“Conway was throwing a kid I’d never seen before,” Fitch said Saturday. “Eighty-five to 90 percent of his pitches were curveballs but he kept it low, he wasn’t just floating them in there. They were good curveballs.

“We had opportunities early, left a lot of runners on, kind of like what we did today. We were a hit or two away of really opening this one up.”

The Panthers made the most of their chances in Game 2 with an 8-2 victory.

Cabot ace Cole Nicholson (6-1) started Saturday’s first game and went the distance, striking out five while allowing two walks and only two hits.

“We’ve been saving him as our No. 2 the whole time and he’s won every conference game except one,” Fitch said.

“We know going into that state tournament and next week against Van Buren, when he’s on the mound we’ve got a chance.”

North Little Rock dodged trouble over the first three as starter Brooks Howard walked two, hit another and gave up three hits, with another Panthers player reaching on an error.

But Cabot stranded five before North Little Rock created a mess it couldn’t escape in the fourth.

Howard walked Cabot’s bottom three hitters Nicholson, Tyler Cole and Daniel Fox consecutively with one out, then Howard balked to score Nicholson with the only run Cabot would need.

Dillon Howell relieved Howard, then Cole scored as first baseman Brian Chastain committed an error.

Howell walked Justin Goff to lead off the Cabot fifth and advanced him with two wild pitches. Nicholson helped himself again when he hit a single to drive in Goff and make it 3-0.

A wild pitch and an error put North Little Rock in a pinch again in the sixth, and Kason Kimbrell and Tyler Carter, who singled and scored respectively when Brandon Surdam hit into a fielder’s choice and Goff singled to center.

Fitch said he was glad Cabot was able to cash in on the North Little Rock miscues, but was hoping for more production with men on base.

“We still had a lot of missed opportunities,” he said.

After giving up Chastain’s one-out single in the seventh, Nicholson induced two flyouts to end the game.

Fitch felt entering last week Cabot needed a couple more victories to qualify for the state tournament and was keeping an eye on the power rankings.

“We’ve got like 58 points going into this so I think we’re in anyway,” Fitch said.

“But what can happen, we take care of business and then something could happen next week with Van Buren; we could be a three or a four seed still.”