Wednesday, April 03, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot playing its best softball as tournament nears

Leader sportswriter

The busy season is here for the Cabot Lady Panther softball team after a third-place finish at the Harrison Invitational tournament over the weekend and the Cabot/Beebe Invitational tournament coming up this Saturday.

The Lady Panthers got off to a slow start to the season with a number of error-prone games, but a 3-1 performance last week that included a 6-1 home nonconference victory over Conway showed tremendous growth, both offensively and defensively. Cabot defeated Harding Academy and Pea Ridge with a second-round loss to Paragould at the Harrison tourney.

“We were averaging four errors a game before spring break,” first-year Lady Panthers coach Chris Cope said. “Now, we’ve cut that back to two. Our defense has picked up. We’ve finally found the right position for a lot of the girls to play, and we’ve had some good individual performances. The bats picking up have also helped us out; we’re finally scoring some runs.”

That defensive improvement was evident in the win over Conway, as the Lady Wampus Cats were unable to answer an early Cabot turn that produced three runs in the bottom of the second inning. Solid defense, along with a dominant performance from Lady Panthers pitcher Kaitlyn Thompson, allowed few opportunities for the guests.

Conway did manage a solo home run in the top of the second, but the three Cabot scores in the bottom of the frame, along with three more in the bottom of the fourth, kept momentum in the Lady Panthers’ favor throughout.

The Harrison tournament started for Cabot on Friday night with a 4-3 win over Harding Academy. The Lady Panthers got out to a 4-0 lead on hits by Heather Hill and Brandyn Vines, with Thompson taking the win in the pitchers’ circle despite a late comeback by the Lady Wildcats.

Cabot was not as fortunate in an 8-4 loss to Paragould in the early Saturday game. The Lady Rams got away early with an 8-0 lead before Cabot started coming back in the final two innings. Hill and Vines once again got the Lady Panthers’ bats going, with the help of a RBI by Kristen Sumler.

Macee Abbott and Rachel Allgood also came away with big hits, but the tournament time limit caught Cabot in the middle of its rally and relegated them to the consolation bracket and a third-place game against Pea Ridge.

Thomson got pitching relief from Kaitlyn Felder, who pitched two innings of shutout softball during the Lady Panthers’ 8-2 victory to secure third place in the tournament. Anderson contributed at the plate with a game-high three hits for Cabot.

The Lady Panthers are now 6-6 overall and 1-2 in the 7A/6A East Conference.

The top half of the bracket for the Beebe/Cabot tournament this weekend consists of games to be played at both schools. The host Lady Badgers take on Dardanelle at 10 a.m., followed by Trumann against Jacksonville at 11:30 a.m. At the same time, Cabot will host Jonesboro Westside with Nettleton-Farmington following at 11:30 a.m.

“Overall, I think it’s going to be a pretty good little tournament,” Cope said. “We heard from Jonesboro Westside, they may not be coming, so we’re trying to find someone else. It may be Forrest City. Farmington is a good 4A program, and they’re usually in the mix, and Nettleton is another team out of that tough 5A East Conference with Beebe.

“On their side, you’ve got Dardanelle, which is another good 4A school. Trumann can get in the mix, and I’m not sure what Jacksonville has this year.”

With the bulk of their East schedule remaining and an eye toward postseason play, the Lady Panthers are looking to gain more experience from back-to-back weekends of invitational tournaments and a different mix of opponents from 4A to 7A.

“It’s always good when you can see teams that are not in your conference, different competition and different pitching,” Cope said. “Right now, you have teams peaking or trying to peak, and it’s always good to get ready for the state tournament. Especially 4A teams because they have regional tournaments, so that’s good for them to see 7A teams to get them ready for that.”

Cabot was scheduled to play a varsity doubleheader at Mountain Home last night depending on the weather, and will host Jonesboro on Thursday.