Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Panther softball team earns first league win

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Lady Panthers picked up their first 7A/6A East Conference softball victory in easy fashion with a 21-0 shutout over Little Rock Central on Friday.

The Lady Panthers did not need many hits during the run-ruled affair, as they loaded the bases repeatedly on walks against a Central team struggling to find consistent pitching.

The first few weeks of the season has not been so easy for Cabot, however, as a youth-dominated roster and new coach have worked to find their identity in what appears to be a closely-stacked East league. Cabot currently stands 3-4 overall, and is 1-1 in conference play after losing its league opener at North Little Rock on Tuesday.

Former Searcy coach Chris Cope took over the helm for longtime coach Becky Steward upon her retirement last summer, and is looking to build a program similar to that of his state-championship winning Lady Lions team in 2011.

Senior catcher Taylor Anderson leads the Lady Panthers at the plate with a stellar .573 average, followed by freshman Kayla Henard, who has a .400 average through the first seven games. While Anderson and Henard have enjoyed batting success early, Cope would like to see the overall team average improve.

“Right now, we’re not swinging the bats like we need to, or scoringruns,” Cope said. “After spring break, we’ve got to come back and look at scoring some runs and cut down on our errors to be successful.”

The numbers add up to a potentially deep Cabot team in the future with the varsity and junior-varsity rosters combining for 10 freshmen, four sophomores and five juniors with only three seniors.

The Lady Panthers also have a youthful look inside the pitcher’s circle with sophomore Kaitlyn Thompson handling most of the duties so far this season.

Freshman Kaitlyn Felder entered the season as the No. 2 pitcher, but is currently out injured, leaving another freshman, Payton Steadman, as Thompson’s backup if needed.

“Kaitlyn Thompson has done well for not really being a pitcher,” Cope said. “We’ve just kind of needed her right now for her leadership as a player. She’s done well, we just have to learn to make some plays behind her.”

The inexperience of the Lady Panthers on defense caused a significant amount of errors at the start of the season, but with the beginning of conference play, Cope said he has seen solid improvement on that end, but still has his concerns when it comes to batting.

“We’re getting better,” Cope said. “We started our first game with eight errors, and in our conference game against North Little Rock, we had just three, so we’re cutting them down. We just haven’t woke our bats up like we need to, and that’s something we have to get back to practicing to make a run. There’s only a month and a half left, and then you’re done.”

As far as the 7A/6A East Conference itself, Cabot is not the only rebuilding team this year with several youth-dominant lineups throughout the league.

The new conference alignment has also landed the Lady Panthers in the same league as perennial 6A powerhouses Searcy and Mountain Home, though the Lady Lions are one of those rebuilding teams.

“From top to bottom, our conference looks pretty even,” Cope said. “North Little Rock right now would get the heads up, they’re 2-0. We’re 1-1, and there’s a bunch of 1-1s. In our conference, we have four 6A and four 7A, and I think on any given night, everybody can beat everybody, so it’s pretty even for the most part.”