Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SPORTS >> Panthers and Ladies to open HPER Arena next week

Leader sports editor

Cabot’s boys and girls basketball teams open their new and long-awaited arena as they simultaneously open their first Pre-Holiday Basketball Tournament on Monday.

The only two games on the docket for Monday are the Cabot games. The Lady Panthers get the honors of playing the first-ever game on the new floor at 6 p.m. against Harding Academy. The boys follow immediately afterward against Paragould.

Lady Panther coach Carla Crowder says her squad is eagerly anticipating that first game.

“They’re so excited they can’t hardly stand it,” Crowder said of her players. “It’s something they’ve been waiting on and looking forward to for a long time. They’re fired up and ready to go.”

The girls bracket is loaded with top-quality teams from around the state, including three defending state champions. England, Shiloh Christian and Watson Chapel each won their respective classification titles and will be on hand next week at Cabot.

“We just wanted to get as many good teams as we could in it,” Crowder said. “Year in and year out we want good teams and good coaches. All the teams have high caliber coaches and good people. We want it to be a high-level tournament each year.”

The boys tournament doesn’t boast three defending state champions, but does include playoff teams like Searcy, Paragould and Watson Chapel, as well as postseason staples such as Wynne and Benton.

Panther coach Jerry Bridges says his players are also excited, but no more excited than he is.

“I’m right there with them,” Bridges said. “We all feel like little kids on Christmas morning. “Let’s go baby, we’re ready.”

Bridges expressed gratitude to the school administration and community for their effort and support in getting the arena built. It was on the immediate agenda when Bridges was hired five years ago, but he’s been patient given other circumstances.

“Sometimes things happen that’s out of your control,” Bridges said. “Junior High North burned down but we rallied together the Cabot way and we got it now. It’s been a long wait, but it’s here now and we’re very excited and grateful.”

Bridges wants his team to show its gratitude in every game and practice.

“One thing we talked about, let’s be worthy of this facility,” Bridges said. “By that, we mean to give everything we’ve got every day and every night.”

The tournament picks up again Tuesday and will feature games every night through Saturday.

First-round girls games Tuesday include Searcy taking on Shiloh Christian at 4 p.m. Nettleton then hosts powerhouse Watson Chapel at 7 p.m.

The final first-round game will be played next Wednesday when defending class 2A state champion England battles Jessieville.

On the boys side, Searcy and Shiloh Christian face off at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, while Wynne plays Watson Chapel at 8:30 p.m.. The boys first-round concludes at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday when Benton takes on England.

Boys and girls second round and consolation brackets run through Thursday and Friday, with four games on each night.

Play winds down with six games on Saturday, including the boys and girls championship games scheduled for 6:00 and 7:30 p.m.

The Cabot boys have one game left before the tournament, a road game this Friday at Pine Bluff High School.