Friday, March 07, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers topple War Eagles at state

Special to The Leader

CONWAY – The Cabot Panthers traveled to Buzz Bolding Arena on Thursday to face Rogers-Heritage in the first round of the class 7A state basketball tournament, and they earned their first playoff win since 2009 with a 58-51 triumph over the War Eagles.

Cabot (17-10) had defeated Searcy in the last regular-season game to secure the No. 3 Central tournament seed, while Heritage (14-11) entered the tournament as the West No. 6 seed. In the end, the higher seed prevailed as Cabot moved on to face Bentonville in the tournament’s second round last night after deadlines.

Cabot outscored the War Eagles 13-5 in the first quarter to grab the early lead. In a closer second quarter, Cabot still won the scoring battle, but only by two for a 28-18 halftime advantage. The Panthers scored 15 points in the third quarter to the War Eagles’ 12, but Heritage put together a run in the fourth as they outscored Cabot 21 to 15 to close the deficit to seven at the game’s end.

“I really thought we came out focused,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “I thought our guys did a great job of implementing our game plan on defense. We couldn’t et No. 21 (Crist Olsen) get going, and I thought everybody did a great job not just on No. 21. Everybody got a little sloppy at the end, and all in all we stumbled a little bit during that stretch, but that’s basketball. That happens, it’s a game of runs. We got our composure back in the last minute and finished it off. Good win.

“I’m happy for these guys, these seniors. I’m proud of these kids, to get a win in the state tournament. That’s good for our program, and hopefully helps build tradition, too.

“We know we’ve got a big game tomorrow night with Bentonville. We know they are very good, they wouldn’t be the two seed in the West if they weren’t,” Bridges said.

Heritage got on the board first with a lob pass and a finish by Connor Hirsh. They could only add three free throws to that basket for five points in the quarter. Jake Ferguson and Michael Smith each had four points for the Panthers, Adolfo Iglesias added a 2-pointer in the lane and a free throw, and Hunter York a layup for Cabot’s 13 first-quarter points.

Garrett Rowe started the Panthers’ scoring in the second with a two-point basket, followed by a three by freshman Jarrod Barnes. Crist Olsen answered with a 3-pointer for the War Eagles. Rowe scored again, and Nick Thomas added a bucket to extend Cabot’s lead to 22-8.

Hunter Southerland scored four points, and Jeremiah Penner sank two free throws to round out the second quarter for the Panthers. Heritage managed three two-point baskets and sank 4 of 4 free throws to end the half.

The War Eagles scored the first five points of the second half to cut the deficit to five. Ferguson answered with the first of his two 3-pointers of the third quarter. York also had a three-point basket in the quarter, Iglesias added four points, and Cabot’s lead at the end of three was 43-30.

The lead grew to 17 at one point in the fourth, but fullcourt pressure by Heritage, turnovers by the Panthers, and missed free throw opportunities allowed the War Eagles to cut the lead to five at 52-47 with less than a minute to play.

Ferguson then stepped up for Cabot and sank 4 of 4 from the line to extend the lead back to a nine-point advantage. Julian Jensen answered with a two for Heritage with 16 seconds to go. After a timeout by the War Eagles, Rowe caught a long inbound pass and finished with the layup for the Panthers. Olsen sank one more basket for Heritage to set the final score at 58-51.

Ferguson led Cabot with 14 points, but also grabbed seven rebounds and was 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.
“Jake played a great game,” Bridges said. “Jake’s a competitor. He loves to win. I count on him and Hunter quite a bit. They played 29 and 30 minutes, respectively.”

Rowe added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Panthers. Iglesias had seven points, Southerland and Smith both had six points and York five.
Olsen and Jensen each had 12 points to lead Heritage.

Look for details of last night’s game in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.