Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SPORTS >> Cabot girls win Central crown

Leader sports editor

Nothing came easily, but the Lady Panthers got it done. The Cabot girls beat a determined and gritty Russellville team Friday at Panther Arena, 41-32, to clinch a No. 1 seed in the class 7A state tournament and earn their first conference championship in six years.

Little offensive continuity was gained by either team in the rough-and- tumble affair, but the Lady Panthers had an answer for every Cyclone charge en route to the victory.

Cabot coach Carla Crowder says team unity played a big factor in the long-awaited conference title.

“It’s exciting, I’m excited for this group of kids,” Crowder said. “This whole group has really worked hard. The seniors have banded together and the underclassmen have stepped up.”

As for the game itself, Crowder wasn’t totally pleased with how her team played, but didn’t bellieve Russellville’s physical game plan had anything to do with it.

“I don’t think that really bothers us,” Crowder said. “We just didn’t play very well. The seniors were a little uptight. But we went ahead and won. It’s better to play badly and win than play badly and lose.”

The two teams battled to a near stalemate in the first half, with the Lady Panthers taking an 18-17 lead into intermission.

Cabot opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run, including five points in a matter of seconds. Junior guard Jaylen Bridges hit Cabot’s first three pointer of the game. Senior forward Melissa Wolff then got a layup off a steal to make it 27-19 and force a Russellville timeout with 5:40 left in the third quarter.

After the break, the game hit another offensive lull as the two teams struggled to score.

Senior Laci Boyett scored Cabot’s next two points with six seconds left in the quarter. The good news for Cabot in that nearly six-minute scoreless stretch, was that its defense gave up just two points. The Lady Panthers led 29-21 heading into the fourth quarter. The beginning of the final frame was Russellville’s final thrust.

Kaylee Wiedower and Susan Taylor hit back-to-back three pointers to make it 29-27 just a minute into the fourth. Cabot buckled down again defensively and slowly regained control of the game. The Lady Panthers didn’t give up another point until 56 seconds remained in the game. Bridges hit another three pointer and Boyett made a layup to make it 34-27 with 3:30 left.

With 1:20 on the clock, Wolff caught Russellville napping. With all four of her teammates in the back court, Wolff missed the front end of a one-and-one. None of the four Lady Cyclones that were in the lane for the rebound reacted. Wolff was able to shoot the lane untouched for her own rebound and easy layup. That made it 36-27 and effectively ended Russellville’s hopes of a comeback.

Boyett said the seniors are especially happy about the 7A Central championship.

“We’ve all played together a really long time,” Boyett said. “Ever since we were in sixth grade this has been our goal and we know coach Crowder wants it as badly as us. It’s amazing playing with this team and it’s been a long time so we’re very excited.”

Wolff led the Lady Panthers with 17 points. She also had eight rebounds and four assists. Boyett scored eight points while junior Elliot Taylor had six points and nine rebounds.

The Lady Panthers will begin play in the class 7A state tournament at Panther Arena on Thursday. They will play the winner of today’s matchup between West Memphis and Springdale Har-Ber at 4 p.m.