Tuesday, March 10, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Grizzlies bury Panthers early in first round

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers’ season came to an end Friday in the first round of the Class 7A state basketball tournament at Springdale Har-Ber, as West No. 4 seed Fort Smith Northside jumped on the Panthers early, and cruised to a 71-44 victory.

Cabot, who squeaked into the tournament as the East three seed, struggled mightily on the offensive end in the early goings Friday, while Northside couldn’t seem to miss.

The Grizzlies opened the game with a 16-0 run to take an early double-digit lead, and Cabot could never recover. The Panthers eventually got on the board, but the sluggish start ultimately led to their demise. At the end of the first quarter, Northside led by a commanding 22-5 advantage.

“They came out with an uppercut on us early, and I guess we just didn’t get up off the mat very well afterwards,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “They came out on fire. We watched the first eight minutes, coach (Nathan) Brown and I, and the first three or four minutes we’re getting shots, but we’re not making shots.

“We missed a few layups in the mix, and next thing you know it’s 8-0 and then it’s 16-0 and we really hadn’t turned it over any. Now we’ve got to try and play catch-up the whole game against a very, very athletic team, and they just played well. You’ve just got to give them credit.”

Cabot went on a bit of a run in the second quarter and got within 11 of Northside’s lead, but the run took a lot out of the Panthers, and the Grizzlies were able to respond and narrowly outscore Cabot 19-18 in the second quarter to lead 41-23 at halftime.

The third-quarter scoring was nearly as balanced, but the Grizzlies outscored the Panthers again in that quarter, 16-13, to lead 57-36 at the start of the fourth.

Northside put the dagger into the Panthers’ season in the fourth quarter, outscoring Cabot 14-8 to set the final score.

“At times we showed a few flashes,” Bridges said. “We got it down to 11. It just took a lot out of us. By far it wasn’t one of our better games. You hate for it to end like that, but we’ve been through a lot this year and I’m still proud of our efforts toward the end of the year that we were able to play ourselves into the state tournament. I just wish we could’ve had a better showing.”

Three different Grizzlies finished the game in double figures, scoring-wise. Sophomore forward Logan Gilbertson was the only Panther to do that Friday. He had 11 points.

Fellow sophomore Jarrod Barnes added nine points for Cabot, and junior forwards Hunter Southerland and Garrett Rowe added six points apiece.

The Panthers started their season well, but by the time conference play began, Cabot was overwhelmed by injuries, which led to a losing streak that made the Panthers’ playoff chances dim.

Cabot, however, steadily got healthier as the season progressed, and the Panthers scratched and clawed their way into the 7A state tournament by the end of the regular season.

“At one point in the season it didn’t look good,” Bridges said of his team’s playoff chances. “We slowly started getting people back and we played some good games.”

Friday’s game was the last for senior guard Tyler Hill, who was one of two seniors on the team, but was the only senior able to finish the season. Near the midway point of the season, when Cabot’s starters suffered a plethora of injuries, senior guard Jake Ferguson re-aggravated a knee injury he first suffered during football season that kept him off the floor for the rest of the year.

In his final game as a Panther, Hill finished with three points, three rebounds and one assist.

“We lost Jake during the season,” Bridges said, “and losing him really hurt because he had been there for us, and brought leadership and toughness. That hurt losing Jake.

“I was proud of Tyler Hill for sticking with us all these years. It just tells you a lot about his character and his work ethic. To stick with us being a young team – it’s kind of tough when you don’t have many seniors. He can say that he’s been to the state tournament three years in a row, and that’s something to be proud of.”

The Panthers finished the 2014-2015 season with a 15-12 overall record.