Saturday, November 16, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers shake rust to defeat Hamilton

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panther basketball team showed a little rust in Thursday’s benefit game against Lake Hamilton, but it still outscored the class 6A Wolves 38-29 in the four quarters played at Panther Arena.

Cabot’s players finally got to play against someone other than themselves Thursday, and played like an eager team, scoring the first four points of the game before Lake Hamilton got on the board and eventually cut the Panthers’ lead to 10-7 by the end of the first quarter.

Since Thursday’s benefit game was an exhibition, the scoreboard was reset at the end of each quarter. But like the first quarter, Cabot scored the first four points of the second, thanks to free throws by sophomores Hunter Southerland and Garrett Rowe.

Lake Hamilton answered with an 8-1 run to lead the period by an 8-5 margin. The Panthers tied it up at 8-8 on a three-pointer from the corner by senior Jeremiah Penner with 2:52 to play before the break, but neither team scored the rest of the half.

Cabot coach Jerry Bridges wasn’t entirely pleased with his team’s performance, but said part of the reason for that had to do with Lake Hamilton’s play. Plus, the Panthers are currently playing without their senior point guard Hunter York, who’s recovering from a broken shooting hand.

“We’ll get better, and we’re better than how we played, but you’ve got to give Lake Hamilton some credit,” said Bridges. “I thought they did a good job of guarding us. But not having Hunter York hurts us right now. We don’t have our point guard. He goes back to the doctor Tuesday, and maybe he’ll get cleared.”

Senior Nick Thomas played the point in York’s absence, and did a nice job of taking care of the ball as he finished the four-quarter exhibition with just one turnover. As a team, Cabot committed a single turnover in the first quarter, and just nine for the game. Lake Hamilton committed double that amount with 18.

“I was proud of Nick Thomas,” Bridges said. “We’ve got him out of position right now, and I thought Nick did fine. He had just one turnover, and we’ll live with that.”

Thomas normally plays at the shooting guard or small forward position, but will run the point until York returns from his injury. In the post, no one on the floor played a better game than 6-foot-5 sophomore Jared Dixon, who came off the Panther bench and finished the benefit with a game-high 11 points, and team-high five rebounds.

Dixon tallied the majority of his stats in the second half, when the host Panthers outscored the visiting Wolves 20-14.

“I thought Jared Dixon was a highlight off the bench,” Bridges said. “He’s a 10th-grader, and my other two 10th-graders that are playing a lot, Rowe and Southerland, they had the deer in the headlights look at the beginning. But maybe we got through that, and I know what they’re going to be able to do, too.”

Even though the Panthers finished the exhibition ahead on the scoreboard, Bridges says his team will need to play much better once the season gets under way if it expects to be competitive against some of the more physical, athletic teams on the schedule – especially in the very talent-heavy 7A/6A East Conference.

“I appreciate my guys,” Bridges said. “They know we didn’t play like we’re capable. I’m not saying we’re the best team in the state, but we’re better than that. They know that, and I think their pride’s been taken back a little bit. Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of improvement between this game and Conway.”

Other than the turnover margin, Cabot also won the battle on the boards by outrebounding Lake Hamilton 26-23. The Panthers also did a better job of getting to the free-throw line, as they had 13 more attempts than Lake Hamilton. But the Wolves finished with a higher percentage at the line, shooting 67, bettering Cabot’s 53 percent. Neither team shot well at the three-point line, but both teams made four three-pointers each.

Southerland finished second behind Dixon in scoring with seven points. Senior post Michael Smith scored six points for Cabot. Penner scored five, while Thomas added four.

The Panthers will play their first regular-season game at home against Conway on Nov. 25.