Friday, March 30, 2012

SPORTS >> Conway escapes Cabot

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Lady Panthers gave defending 7A state champion Conway all it wanted during a 2-1 loss at Panther Stadium on Tuesday.

The Lady Wampus Cats eventually prevailed when they scored on a corner kick in the fifth minute of the second half for the winning goal, but not before the Lady Panthers (5-3,1-1) held them in check for most of the first half, as well as the remainder of the second half.

“It was very closely contested,” Lady Panthers coach Kerry Castillo said. “Conway is a really good team, and we knew that coming in. We’ve had some new faces on our team that have just added a different level of athleticism for us. We believe that if we can be patient and not chase the ball or make clumsy mistakes, we can play with them. I thought the girls did a wonderful job of doing exactly that.”

Conway took an early 1-0 lead when their leading forward kicked a strike into the lower left corner against Lady Panthers junior goalkeeper Hana Cooper at the 16:34 mark of the first half of the 7A Central Conference clash. Cabot senior forward Ally Lamb tied the game five minutes later with a perfect strike from 35 yards out that just cleared the crossbar to give the Lady Panthers their only goal.

“I thought it was a little bit closer from the distance that I saw,” Castillo said of Lamb’s goal. “But someone said it was about 35 or 40 yards out. It was just a great hit – heads up play. The defense left her open, she saw an opportunity and she took it.”

Sophomore midfielder Jessica Souza kept the Lady Cats honest through most of the first half with a number of strong battles that denied breakaways, while Cooper fended off several shots on goal from Conway until the chaos of a corner kick early in the second half finally caught her out of position.

“She has progressively gotten better,” Castillo said. “Every training session, Michelle Parr is our goalkeeping coach, and Hana has responded to everything she’s been taught. She recorded two clean sheets at the Harrison tournament. She had some really great grabs, and again today on two really high shots. She’s been a bright spot for us this year.”

The Lady Panthers grabbed some early-season momentum and perhaps a little more respect statewide at the Harrison tournament over spring break with a 3-0 victory over 5A West powerhouse Siloam Springs and a 2-0 shutout against defending 5A champs Harrison. Castillo, now in his second season as coach of the Lady Panthers, said he has been pleased with the progress of the program over the course of the past year.

“Their fitness is wonderful, and their attitudes are great,” Castillo said. “They’re responding to the demands that they’re given. I see nothing but more improvement as time goes on. The program as a whole from top to bottom is really coming along and developing. The players are buying into year round, offseason, preseason and game season that they have to go through.

“If I could assess, my expectations have been above and beyond.”

The Lady Panthers played on the road against Mount St. Mary on Friday and will play at North Little Rock on Tuesday.