Tuesday, May 13, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Panther girls get past SH in finale

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot girls’ soccer team ended the conference season on a high note with a 2-1 win over North Little Rock on Friday to earn a share of the 7A/6A-East Conference championship for the second year in a row. On Monday, Cabot beat Sylvan Hills 3-1 in a nonconference game at Panther Stadium to close the regular season.

Cabot junior Melody Sampson scored the first goal of Monday’s game to give the Lady Panthers a 1-0 lead, but Sylvan Hills’ leading scorer, Abigail Persson, knotted up the score at 1-1 on a goal shortly after.

The Lady Panthers, though, took a 2-1 lead into halftime on a free kick from about 20 yards out by Braxton Reed with 9:20 left in the opening half.

Sylvan Hills had a handful of chances to score in the second half, but could never get a clean look at the net, and the Lady Panthers gave themselves a two-goal cushion on a goal from 25 yards away by Sampson at the 27:50 mark of the second half, setting the final score.

Cabot managed to maintain possession through most of the game, and with the first round of the state tournament starting tomorrow; Cabot coach Kerry Castillo was pleased with the way his team played against the Lady Bears, who will enter the class 5A state tournament as the No. 3 seed from the central conference.

“I was really pleased with the way we played,” said Castillo. “Even more so than the way we played against North Little Rock. We possessed the ball so much better. The only thing we couldn’t quite do was put it in the back of the net.

“It wasn’t from a lack of chances. I thought their keeper (Courtney Boutte) played really well. I thought the formation we played in is what we want to do in the first round of the playoffs. We seemed really comfortable in it. So I couldn’t be more pleased.”

The Lady Bears may have lost Monday’s game, but to Sylvan Hills coach Nate Persson, it was a great way to prepare for some of the stellar competition that’ll await them if they can get past the first round of the 5A playoffs, which he fully expects his team to do.

“They’re a real solid 7A team,” said Nate Persson. “I love it because we pretended they’re Harrison (the No. 1 seed from the West). For the first time ever in Sylvan Hills’ history, we have a real good chance of getting past the second round – actually a very good chance of doing it. We’ve never had a real good chance because of the way the seeds worked out.

“Our third game, if we make it there, which we’re fully confident that we are, will be against the winner of Little Rock Christian and Harrison. We will never beat them if we play conventional soccer. We’re playing a hybrid (style). It’s not packing the box like Shiloh Christian does Harrison, and it didn’t work this year.

“It’s pushing them out and actually making them shoot from way out. So it opens the field up. We’re not concerned about making offensive runs. We want to catch them with the right reserves in there. The reason we played this game had nothing to do with the score. It had everything to do with practice for that third game.”

Like Persson, Castillo is pleased with the draw his team got in the state tournament and believes his team can make a serious run in it this week as well.

“I like the path in front of us,” Castillo said, “as far as potential games we could have to make the final. I think it’s very doable – difficult, but not quite as difficult as having to play Bryant again. We get to stay away from them the way the seedings fell. So I like our chances, especially after today.”

The Lady Panthers (15-4-2, 6-1), the Central No. 3 seed, will play Rogers Heritage, the No. 6 West seed, at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Bentonville High School in the first round of the 7A state tournament.

The Lady Bears (14-6, 8-4) will play the South No. 2 seed White Hall tomorrow morning at 10 in the opening round of the 5A state tournament at the Harrison High School Field.