Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot overpowers BHS

Leader sports editor

The Cabot volleyball team got its first playoff win since 2004 on Tuesday when it beat Bryant 3-1 in the first round of the class 7A state playoffs at Panther Arena in Cabot. It’s the first playoff win under third-year coach DeAnna Campbell, who has started many of this year’s seniors since they were sophomores.

“We’ve been waiting for this day,” Campbell said of her squad. “We were robbed of this opportunity last year. Fate robbed us. So we’ve been waiting for this.”

A severe car accident injured four players just before the state tournament last year, including leading hitter Lakin Best.

Best entered Tuesday’s match with a mission. Fellow senior Taylor Bitely led the Lady Panthers in kills, but Best was hammering the ball in the early going, forcing Bryant to adjust.

“Lakin was just ridiculous, how hard she was hitting the ball,” Campbell said. “We’ve been working with her all year trying to teach her to hold and snap. This week she got it and she was amazed at how much more she has.”

When Bryant, 12-18, adjusted to Best, Bitely took up the slack and put down a few of her own big kills. All the hitters got good sets. Bailee Uhiren led the team in assists, but sophomore Katelyn Joyner filled the role well also.

“We knew she might have to be second setter with the way Bryant plays, and she used to be a setter,” Campbell said of Joyner. “We worked almost exclusively on offense this week and I think you could tell. We put in about five new plays and we were running them. I’m very proud of this performance.”

Bryant got the first rally when it scored five-straight points to take a 7-2 lead, but it was short-lived momentum and was never really regained.

Cabot, 15-11, started its comeback when Best took serve and scored three straight, including two aces. She also got five huge kills, including one off the head of Bryant libero Whitney Brown.

Game one was marred by several net violations by both teams, but Cabot overcame theirs with better passing and more powerful kills than the young Lady Hornets.

The Lady Hornets did regain the momentum early in game two and never relinquished it. Junior Abbie Staton took serve and confounded the Lady Panthers for five points that broke the game open from a 2-2 tie to a 7-2 Bryant lead. Cabot was never able to pull within three from that point.

After getting to within three, Bryant junior Mercedes Dillard reeled off three points in a row. Cabot’s Kaitlyn Pitman sparked another Panther rally with a big kill and two aces on serve, but Bryant was up to every Cabot challenge.

After again pulling to within three points, sophomore Savannah Shelton hit three straight, including the game-winner to end the set at 25-20.

Cabot reclaimed the momentum at the outset of game three.

Uhiren reeled off six-straight points on serve, including two aces. The first two points were kills by Best off assists by Pitman. After the first ace, Pitman to Best got another point and Uhiren got her second ace to the back right corner.

Bryant finally broke serve, but Best continued to dominate at the net and Cabot continued to place its serves near perfectly.

Pitman and Haylee Callison added aces to their ledger as the Lady Panthers built a quick 10-4 lead. Bryant broke, but Best got another kill off the face of a Bryant back-row player, followed by one by Bitely that made it 12-5 and forced Lady Hornet coach Beth Solomon to call a timeout.

The break didn’t help as Cabot continued to pull away. The Lady Panthers’ biggest lead came on a Bitely ace that made it 21-10, but Bryant wasn’t ready to give in. After breaking serve to make it 21-11, Dillard served five-straight points to make it 21-16, forcing Campbell to call timeout. Sophomore Abbie Anderson got her sixth kill after the break to make it 21-17 before Cabot finally broke Dillard’s serve. Cabot pushed it to 24-18 when Best, who’d had six kills early in the match, finished the game off with a left-to-right, cross-court kill after a nice set by Joyner.

Cabot got started first in game two as Bryant struggled hitting down on the ball. With Best serving, Bryant sent three kill attempts long and a fourth into the net, giving Cabot an 8-4 lead and forcing another Hornet timeout. Cabot scored twice more after the timeout before Bryant finally took serve trailing 10-5.

Cabot’s lead grew to as much as 16-8 before Brittany Sahlmann took serve and reeled off two aces and four-straight points. Cabot called its second timeout of the game and Sahlmann hit her serve into the net after the break.

Cabot then scored two quick points on Pittman’s serve and Bryant asked for a minute to regroup.

The timeout didn’t seem to help matters as a miss-hit by Bitely on a pass attempt cleared the net and bounced untouched on Bryant’s side. On Pitman’s next serve, another unforced error gave Cabot a 20-12 lead. After a couple of back-and-forth plays, Bitely ended it with two big kills on Best’s serve to give Cabot the 25-15 victory.

Bitely finished with 19 kills while Best had 14. Uhiren was credited with 11 assists while Joyner had seven. Best had 16 points on serve while Uhiren had 12, including four aces.

Cabot faces West No. 1 seed Fort Smith Southside at 4 p.m. today at Panther Arena.