Friday, November 28, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot girls upset reigning champs

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Lady Panthers pulled off an upset on Tuesday, going on the road and defeating defending Class 7A state champion Conway 72-66. The Lady Wampus Cats have everyone back from a year ago, with one player yet to play so far this season for undisclosed reasons. Despite the experience, the home team struggled early with Cabot’s full-court pressure.

The Lady Panthers jumped out to a big lead early, taking a 22-10 advantage into the second quarter and holding off the Wampus Cats from there.

The Lady Panthers, 3-1, also struggled with Conway’s press, turning it over 22 times, but when Cabot created turnovers it converted them into points, and the half-court offense executed well. The Lady Panthers worked the ball inside for high-percentage shots, and post player Alyssa Hamilton finished.

Hamilton, a three-year starter, finished with a game-high 28 points on 9 of 15 shooting, and was 10 of 14 from the free-throw line.

Cabot only took two 3-point shots and missed them both.

Conway pulled to within 40-31 by halftime of the fast-paced game, and was within 53-47 by the start of the fourth quarter. Cabot’s margin shrunk to as little as two, but Conway could never take the lead.

Senior guard Danielle McWilliams scored 14 points and dished out three assists while junior forward Anna Sullivan dropped in 12 points. Junior point guard Leighton Taylor had nine points and three assists, and Hamilton led the team with eight rebounds.

The Cabot boys, 1-1, suffered a second-quarter slump and couldn’t fully recover Tuesday in a 43-39 loss at Conway. The Panthers managed just three points in the second frame after playing to a 10-10 tie in the first quarter. That left the visiting Panthers with a 22-13 deficit at the half.

The Wampus Cats pushed that margin to as much as 14 early in the third quarter, but Cabot battled back, cutting it to as little as three points and having a few possessions while trailing by that margin.

“We had a few chances when it was a one-possession game,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “We just got in a bit of a hurry. We kept grinding. The kids battled to get back in it and I was proud of them for that. We just can’t have those lulls like we did in the second quarter. We just can’t do that man. We have got to shoot better.”

The Panthers shot just 28 percent from the field, with the second-quarter percentage even lower. Once Cabot got to within one possession in the fourth quarter, the shots were not as high percentage as they had been in the process of getting that close.

“We just rushed when we had the opportunity to tie it or get within one point,” Bridges said. “Some of that’s just from having a pretty inexperienced team. Overall I thought there were a lot more positives than negatives. I was proud of how gutty they were in the fourth quarter.”

Junior forward Garrett Rowe led Cabot in scoring and rebounding, dropping in 15 points and grabbing 11 boards. It was also the first game for sophomore guard Jarrod Barnes, who joined the team after football season ended, but sat out until this week with a thumb injury suffered in football. He fouled out without scoring, but the head Panther thinks he will become a contributing player.

“It gave Jarrod a chance to knock some rust off,” Bridges said. “He fouled out but at least he got on the floor and got a chance to see what it’s like at this level. This is different from ninth grade, but I think once he gets in the flow of things he can add a dimension we don’t have right now, and he brings added depth.”

The Cabot boys and girls will host Class 2A England on Tuesday with the Lady Panthers tipping off at 6 p.m.