Monday, October 28, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Senior night a success for Cabot ladies

Leader sportswriter

Tuesday night was senior night for the Lady Panther volleyball team, and Cabot finished its regular-season schedule on a high note by beating a tough class 5A Batesville team at home by scores of 26-24, 25-13, 20-25 and 25-23.

Cabot (14-11, 7-7) was able to pull off the double-digit win in game two, but the other three games were dogfights to the very end, as the Lady Pioneers gave the host Lady Panthers all they could handle. Both teams have locked up playoff berths, and will compete in next week’s state tournament in each of their own respective classifications.

“We scheduled them as our last game before conference and our last game after because it’s a very strong game to use to get ready for our level of competition (in state), because Batesville would be competitive in our conference, too,” said Lady Panthers coach DeAnna Campbell.

“They’re a good team. They match up really well with us, and we can get each other ready for the level of competition we want to play at.”

The Lady Panthers beat the Lady Pioneers on the road by the same 3-1 margin at the beginning of the season, but Campbell said Batesville has gotten a lot better since then. The Lady Pioneers led by as much as 9-3 at the start of game one Tuesday.

Cabot battled back and took its first lead of the match at 11-10 on a well-placed ball tip by senior Taylor Bitely that skimmed over two Lady Pioneer defenders at the middle of the net and fell for the go-ahead point. Batesville, however, retook the lead and pushed it to 21-17 until senior Bailee Uhiren picked up a kill at the corner of the net to cut the deficit to three.

Batesville led 24-23 with serving rights late, but Lady Pioneer freshman Hannah Qualls, who picked up the go-ahead kill on the previous volley, served the next ball into the net to tie the score at 24-24.

That put senior Kate Pitman at the serving line for Cabot, and Pitman’s first serve was an ace. She then served the game’s final point to set the final score of game one. Much like the first game, Batesville got off to another good start in game two as it jumped out to an early 4-1 lead.

But, like the first game, Cabot battled back and retook the lead with senior Lakin Best at the serving line. Best’s go-ahead point from serve came on an ace that put the home team up 6-5, and the Lady Panthers steadily built on their lead from there.

Best put Cabot up 19-10 on the most ferocious kill of the match. After striking the ball from the corner, the ball bounced vigorously off of a Batesville defender, and bounced several rows up into the visitors’ side bleachers.

Later on, Uhiren put the Lady Panthers ahead by double digits on another ferocious kill that knocked Qualls down in the backcourt. Uhiren later picked up the game-winning kill from the corner, with the assist by Best.

Batesville jumped out to another early lead in game three, but this time wouldn’t allow another Cabot comeback.

The Lady Pioneers led by as much as 21-11 until the Lady Panthers went on a 7-1 run to cut the deficit to four.

The Lady Pioneers, however, scored the next two points to set up the game point, leading 24-18. Pitman scored the next two points for Cabot from the serving line before Batesville junior Sarah Hayes, who led her team with 11 kills, spiked the game-winning point to force a fourth game.

The fourth and final game was the most fiercely competitive of the four. Cabot avoided another slow start and led 5-3 early, but Batesville battled back and led by as much as 14-8 until Uhiren stopped the Lady Pioneers’ run with a kill.

Uhiren went to the serving line after her kill and served nine-straight points, three of which were aces, to give the Lady Panthers an 18-14 lead. Batesville though, responded with five-straight points to take a 19-18 lead.

The Lady Pioneers didn’t relinquish the lead until Best picked up another kill from the corner to put Cabot on top 22-21. Batesville tied the score at 23 apiece, and had serving rights, but a side out by Hayes gave the rights back to Cabot, and junior Katelyn Joyner served the final point of the match to give the Lady Panthers the hard-fought win.

“This group has always, since the first day I saw them, been fighters,” Campbell said. “This group just doesn’t quit. They don’t know how. Never giving up is a habit (for them), pushing and fighting is a habit, and these kids have a natural fighter instinct in them. These kids have always been winners because they don’t quit.”

Since Cabot is hosting the class 7A state tournament, which begins this coming Tuesday, the win against Batesville wasn’t the final time the six Lady Panther seniors will play on their own floor, but all six took time after the regular-season finale to embrace fellow teammates, coaches, parents and each other, and enjoy the moment of the senior night post-game ceremony.

“Some of these girls I’ve been with since seventh grade, and some I’ve been with since 10th grade,” Best said. “And every single one of them I love, and it’s just awesome to share this moment with them because I love to win with them. I love being able to help my team get better, and I want to go as far as I can with them.”

“This year I feel like we’ve grown more and become more like sisters than teammates,” Uhiren said. “I feel like I’ve made sisters for life. This year, I feel like we really connected and won for each other and not just for the record. In 10th grade I was very shy and timid, and felt like the baby on the court. But this year we’re the leaders, and I feel like we can accomplish anything.”

Best led all players with 16 kills against Batesville. She also had 13 assists and seven digs. Bitely finished with 11 kills. Uhiren had six kills, and a match-high 17 assists.

Pitman finished with a match-high five aces, and shared the same sentiment as her fellow senior teammates after the match.

“I love each and every one of my girls,” Pitman said. “They all bring something different to the table. All of our personalities click, and we always have fun on the court.”

Like Best, senior libero Becca Moffett finished with seven digs. Moffett rejoined the team this season after taking her junior year off, and was glad to be back with the team she referred to as family, not just teammates.

“I’ve spent so many years with these girls and I’ve learned them so well,” Moffett said, “and it’s more like a family instead of a team.”

Raven Gilbert was the only Lady Panther senior that didn’t play Tuesday. She was held out because of a concussion, and is questionable for the state tournament.

Cabot, the No. 5 Central seed, will play its first-round game of the class 7A state tournament this coming Tuesday against Bryant at 4 p.m.