Tuesday, March 06, 2012

SPORTS >> Lady Panthers defeat Warriors at wire

Leader sportswriter

Not even a bizarre foul call after the final buzzer could dampen the celebration inside Panther Arena on Saturday afternoon as the hometown crowd boisterously celebrated their Cabot Lady Panthers reaching the 7A finals with a hard-fought 57-55 victory over Little Rock Hall. The win pits Cabot against Fort Smith Northside at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Hot Springs.

Fans had to wait a while for the final .01 seconds to tick off the clock as the officials sent Lady Warriors senior Jalisa Cole to the free-throw line for a foul by Cabot guard Jaylen Bridges after the buzzer sounded.

Cole hit the front end to change the final margin by one in a game that was close the entire way, and the celebration finally began.

Foul trouble added to the drama late as Cabot standout Melissa Wolff and teammate Elliot Taylor picked up their fourth personal fouls late in the third quarter, as did dominant 6-3 Hall post player Katelyn Webber, who eventually fouled out with 1:50 left to play and the Lady Warriors leading 50-49.

“It was very intense; the crowd was amazing,” Wolff said. “They were so loud – it was hard to hear everybody. We went back and forth the whole game, so we knew every stop and every score was important.”

Webber’s fifth personal foul sent Taylor to the line, and the junior guard got the lead back for the Lady Panthers (26-5) by hitting both ends to make it 51-50. Sydney Wacker then came up big for Cabot on the defensive side when the senior post player pulled down a rebound off a missed one-and-one free-throw attempt by Kanesha Woods. That led to a driving jumper by Wolff with 1:06 to go that put the Lady Panthers ahead 53-50.

Tyler Scaife got the Lady Warriors (23-6) back to within one with a pull-up jumper from 10 feet at the 47-second mark, but Cabot held the ball and forced a foul, sending Bridges to the line with 24seconds remaining in the game.

Bridges sank both shots to extend the lead back to three at 55-52, but Cole answered on the other end by making both ends of a one-and-one with 11 seconds left to play.

That essentially made it Cabot’s game to win or lose leading 55-54, and coach Carla Crowder put the ball in the hands of Wolff, the multiple time all-state player and future Arkansas Lady Razorback.

Wolff finally put the game away when she drew a foul after taking the inbound pass from Taylor and made both shots to set what appeared to be the final margin until the officials called Bridges for a foul after a missed desperation shot by Scaife from near half court at the horn.

Wolff picked up her fourth personal with 2:36 left to play in the third quarter to send Scaife to the line. Cabot led by its biggest margin at that point at 41-34, but Scaife made both shots and scored from the floor two more times before the end of the period with Wolff off the court to make it 41-40 Cabot.

Wolff came back in early in the fourth, but it was fellow senior Laci Boyett who energized the Lady Panthers with all eight of Cabot’s points in the first 4:30 of the final period.

“I always have to rely on my teammates,” Wolff said. “I had to know that they would help on the backside, and they did a great job. (Boyett) played awesome. We needed some points bad, and she stepped up and played her role. She can do that; she gets on fire.”

Boyett scored inside on an assist from Taylor with 4:26 remaining to give the Lady Panthers a 45-42 lead, and converted a traditional three-point play with another inside jumper and free throw to make it 48-45 with 3:29 left to play.

“She played great,” Crowder said of Boyett. “All season long, she’s really stepped up and turned it up when the game is on the line. She doesn’t mind taking it to the hole, and she doesn’t mind jumping up there and hopefully make free throws.”

Cabot showed respect for Hall’s talent by pressing seldom in the first half, but found themselves battling a tough press by the Lady Warriors through much of the first two quarters. Turnovers ended up a non issue with Cabot committing 12 to Hall’s 11, but the tough defensive play on both sides gave every score added importance.

“Usually, when we play the zone that we were playing, we don’t press out of that,” Crowder said. “Occasionally we do, but not a lot.”

Both teams improved their shot selection and percentage in the second half. Hall took a number of off-balance shots in the first half and ended up 7 of 29 for the half before a much stronger 8 of 13 in the second half to end up 15 of 42 for the game for 36 percent.

Cabot went 10 for 23 in the first half before scoring much of its second-half points from the free-throw line with just 6 of 13 from the floor for a total of 16 for 36 (44 percent).

Wolff and Boyett led the Lady Panthers with 13 points each while Bridges, Wacker and Taylor had eight points each. Taylor led rebounding with seven while Wolff and Wacker each had six. For Hall, Scaife led with a game-high 24 points and six rebounds while Webber added nine points and six rebounds.