Saturday, September 08, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats get away with win at Cabot

Leader sportswriter

The end result may have been the same, but North Little Rock had to work much harder the second time around against a scrappy Cabot team determined to defend its home court in a 3-1 victory for the Lady Charging Wildcats at Panther Arena on Thursday.

North Little Rock easily downed the Lady Panthers in a nonconference match a week earlier, but with 7A/6A East Conference points on the line, Cabot was not willing to go down without a fight.

Junior Lakin Best helped lead the Lady Panthers late in game two with five of her match-high 15 total kills, while Cabot also contended strongly in the final two games with leads midway through both frames before the Lady Wildcats finally prevailed.

“I knew it was going to be tough coming in here because it was conference,” North Little Rock coach Becky Matthews said. “And they were coming off of a loss. I knew this was likely to happen. We didn’t come out pushing hard, and it gave them a little bit of life. Slack off at all, and they can come back, and that’s what happened. I didn’t feel like our defense was very good tonight, and that hurt us.”

The Lady Panthers (1-5, 0-2) gave notice early they did not intend to fade quietly as they pushed the first game to extra points. North Little Rock seniors Kelsie Claussen and Jaelyn Wayne finally found a way to secure the two-point margin required to win with a kill by Claussen and a block from Wayne to end game one 27-25. Cabot got a big moral victory by winning the second game 25-18, while the Lady ’Cats (3-1, 2-0) took the final two games 25-18 and 25-19.

“Both sides did real well on hitting,” Matthews said. “We weren’t reading the cross-court hits very well. Our blockers weren’t getting there. We had some good moments too – I wasn’t upset with our hitters.”

Senior Kendra Tillman proved best at putting a crimp in Cabot momentum as the Lady Wildcat hitter came up with big kills at key times to prevent big scoring runs by the hosts. Tillman finished with nine kills.

“She’s real smart about tipping and other things,” Matthews said of Tillman. “We kept telling the setters to go to her. Sometimes girls are on, and sometimes they are off, and she was having a good moment, so we were utilizing that.”

Cabot junior Bailey Uhiren led the way for the Lady Panthers in the second game with six kills, while Best came on strong late in the game with two kills, and junior Taylor Bitely served up an ace at the end to secure the victory.

“It’s a process – Rome was not built in a day,” Lady Panthers coach DeAnna Campbell said. “All I care about right now is the same thing I’ve cared about since I took this job and that’s the fact that we’re moving forward and getting better every game. I’d like to get it done this year – we’re taking games off people now.”

The Lady Panthers had their chances in the fourth game with a lead that went as high as 13-8 before North Little Rock gradually worked its way back into contention to tie the game at 15 and eventually pull away in the closing stages.

“It only takes three games to win,” Campbell said. “If we take a game off North Little Rock, who just killed West Memphis last week, and push them to double-digits, then come tournament time – that’s our goal. We want to get in the state tournament. If we can keep pushing good teams, then we should level out and get wins.”

Cabot won the hitting battle overall with 41 kills to North Little Rock’s 38. Best led all hitters with 15 kills for the Lady Panthers while Uhiren added nine kills and Bitely had six kills along with a team-high three blocks. For North Little Rock, Tillman and Keedra Johnson led with nine kills each, while Tillman led the team in blocks with five. Wayne had seven kills and four blocks while Claussen finished with six kills.