Monday, September 09, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot ladies lose in agonizing way

Leader sports editor

After starting the season with three straight wins, the Cabot volleyball team is now 3-2 after two conference games and still looking for that signature win against an upper division team.

On Tuesday, Cabot opened 7A/6A East play with a home match against Marion, and lost 3-0. They bounced back on Thursday and took North Little Rock to the wire, but fell 3-2 in an extremely close match. Scores in that match, which has become an entertaining rivalry, were 25-16, 20-25, 22-25, 25-20 and 14-16.

The match ended in gut-wrenching fashion for the Lady Panthers. North Little Rock’s Sarah Huckaby hit a bad serve that hit the top wire of the net, but somehow rolled over and dropped on Cabot’s side for a match-ending ace.

“That was her worst miss hit of the whole night,” said Cabot coach DeAnna Campbell, of Huckaby’s final serve. “She’d been hitting that sidewinder ball to our right and we were having trouble with it. Then she just totally miss hits that one and it drops. How it didn’t hit the antenna, I don’t know. And the direction it was going, it should have landed out of bounds. It just fell perfectly for them. It was an awful way to lose such a close match.”

The match started well for Cabot. Senior Bailee Uhiren scored five-straight points on serve to start the match. The Lady Panthers stretched the lead to 11-4 before North Little Rock called timeout. After one full rotation, Cabot led 17-9 and continued to increase the margin.

That all completely reversed in game two, as North Little Rock scored the first five points of that game. Cabot didn’t whither, and battled back to a 17-17 tie on a kill by senior Lakin Best.

The big rally came on Taylor Bitely’s serve. She took serve with Cabot trailing 16-10, but served up four straight points including two aces to help pull the Lady Panthers back into the game.

After Best’s tying kill, the teams traded points to 20 before a North Little Rock service break put them up 21-20. Lady Wildcat Shadeanna Gatlin then hit an incredible streak of serves, four in a row that Cabot failed to return, including three aces.

Game three was close the whole way, but also the sloppiest game of the match.

It started with three-straight Wildcat points, two of which were mildly protested by Cabot. Those three points proved to be the difference in a game with several unforced errors by both teams. Cabot rallied from the 0-3 deficit to take a 10-6 lead, but fell apart after that. Nearly all of North Little Rock’s points from that point to the end of game three were the result of Cabot errors.

The Lady Panthers showed moxie in game four, coming back to win it after the Lady Wildcats had all the momentum and Cabot’s play had reached a low point. Best put down four of her match-high 13 kills in the last half of game four to spark the Lady Panthers. Kaitlyn Pitman and Bitely also had four kills each in game four.

Cabot appeared to be taking the momentum early in the deciding game. Best served up an ace to put Cabot up 7-3. The Wildcats cut back into the lead, but successive kills by Bitely made it 9-5 and North Little Rock called timeout.

The Lady Wildcats came out of the timeout on fire, and scored the next five points to take the lead. Cabot regrouped and neither team led by more than a single point until the final serve.

Cabot took a 14-13 lead on a tip kill by Best and a Bitely kill as a result of an errant pass that floated back to Cabot’s side of the net. But the Lady Wildcat kill leader ?? Nixon came through with two huge kills to put her team back up before the heartbreaking accidental ace ended the match.

Campbell believes the key to beating 7A teams is not losing focus and playing faster.

“They’re way more athletic than we are, and to be honest, most teams at this level are going to be,” Campbell said. “We’re not a very naturally athletic group. They have had to work very hard to build as much athleticism in themselves as they can. What we have to do is recognize and react faster. We’re still on the move when the ball gets there, and we’re not set. That hurts our passes and our setters aren’t set a lot of the time either. We’re hitting too many balls while we’re on the move. We have to get to our spots faster.”

Cabot will take part in the Spikefest tournament this weekend, then gets back to conference play with a home match against West Memphis on Tuesday.