Tuesday, May 10, 2011

SPORTS >> Seniors relish swan song

Leader sportswriter

Cabot coach Becky Steward had no problem going with what she had against Van Buren in the 7A-Central Conference finale at Conrade Field Monday.

A senior-laden Lady Panthers team demolished the Pointerettes in a 15-5, run-ruled victory that lasted six innings.

But Steward will not have quite as much to go with when the Lady Panthers take the field in the first round of the 7A state tournament at Bentonville High School. Cabot, the No. 3 seed from the 7A-Central, plays at 1:45 p.m. on Friday.

In an inconvenient twist, Cabot’s graduation takes place Friday, the same day as the Lady Panthers’ first-round game. For Steward, that means major contributors like Kristi Flesher, Brooke Taylor and Jenny Evans will not make the trip to the northwest.

“The freshmen and sophomores are going to have to grow up, because we will not have our seniors,” Steward said. “I hate it for them, but I’m not going to make them make a choice. They’ve worked all year, so we’ll give them a shot — see what happens.”

The senior-heavy lineup Cabot (12-13, 7-7) used on Monday also included Hannah Yocum in left field, Tracie French at first base and Ashley Springer at third.

The game was close through3 1/2 innings before the Lady Panthers opened up their offense in the bottom of the fourth. Cabot broke a 3-3 tie with five runs in the inning. They scored five more in the fifth and got the final two runs needed to activate the 10-run rule in the bottom of the sixth.

“Usually, it’s the other way around; the other team opens it up on us,” Steward said. “We’ve got to put together a good ballgame before Friday. For the seniors, it was a win at home.”

French led off the fourth by reaching on an error at second base by Van Buren’s Kenzie Williams. French advanced on a single to center by Springer, and a walk to Flesher with one out loaded the bases.

The bases cleared faster than they filled when Brandon Vines sent a fly ball to the left-centerfield wall for a standup triple. Taylor then got the home crowd energized with an inside-the-park home run that increased Cabot’s lead to 8-3.

The Pointerettes tried to halt Cabot’s momentum by relieving starter Hunter Wuton with Austin Deer following Springer’s single, but Deer gave up Vines’ triple and Taylor’s home run, and Wuton returned to the circle before the end of Cabot’s at-bat.

Van Buren made up a run in the top of the fifth, but Cabot posted another rally in the bottom half. Yocum singled to left and advanced when French made it to first on another Pointerettes error, this one by third baseman Destiny Moses.

Taylor Anderson drew a walk to load the bases, and Yocum scored from third to make it 9-4 when catcher Lauren Tipton was slow to retrieve a ball that got away from her.

Vines loaded the bases again with another walk, and Taylor drove French and Anderson in with a single to left.

Evans then cleared the bases with a triple to deep left field, which prompted another Van Buren pitching change.

“We’ve not hit like that in the last three ballgames,” Steward said. “And they finally put back-to-back hits together, and they just had to be patient at the plate. And we knew the second pitcher was going to be low and inside, and then we waited on it.

“And then the first pitcher, she’s a little faster, but she throws it right down the middle.”

The Lady Panthers scored quickly in the bottom of the first.

Anderson led off with a walk and advanced on Flesher’s single to left.

Taylor bunted down the third-base line for a single that loaded the bases, and Anderson and Flesher scored when Evans hit back to Wuton and Wuton botched the throw to first.

Yocum and French combined to end the game in the bottom of the sixth. Yocum got an infield hit to shortstop and French reached on an error for the third time, scoring Yocum.

Anderson singled and Flesher walked and French scored from third on a passed ball.

Taylor was 3 for 3 with a home run and three RBI. Yocum was 2 for 4 with two runs and French scored three runs with an RBI.