Friday, March 04, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot girls ousted after first-round rally

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot girls gave top-ranked Conway quite a scare in the second round of the Class 7A state tournament Thursday at Panther Arena, but the Lady Wampus Cats survived the Lady Panthers’ fourth quarter rally and pulled away at the free-throw line late for a 55-48 victory.

Before Thursday, Cabot (20-12) played Conway (29-1) twice this season.

The Lady Wampus Cats won both November games – winning the first 57-48 and the second game at Panther Arena 65-42.

In that second regular-season game, Conway standout point guard and UCA signee Alexis Tolefree scored 45 points and the Lady Wampus Cats dominated, but Thursday’s state tournament game was a different story.

Tolefree still led all scorers with 20 points Thursday, but Cabot’s Josie Vanoss led the first-quarter scoring with six points, helping the Lady Panthers to a 14-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Conway responded with an 8-0 run to start the second quarter, taking a 16-14 lead over Cabot. The go-ahead basket was a Tolefree steal that led to a transition layup by the senior point guard, but Vanoss put the hosts back up with four free throws and point guard Leighton Taylor added another to give Cabot a 19-16 lead with 3:19 left in the first half.

The score was back and forth for the remainder of the half. With eight seconds remaining, Cabot junior guard Holly Allen made the rare bank 3-pointer from the corner to give the Lady Panthers a 26-25 lead, but Tolefree answered with a buzzer-beating three to end the half and give the Lady Wampus Cats a 28-26 lead.

Conway outscored Cabot 12-7 in the third quarter to lead 40-33 at the start of the fourth, and 41 seconds into the final eight minutes, Tolefree gave Conway a double-digit lead with a 3-pointer from the top of the key.

The Lady Wampus Cats led 45-35 with less than six minutes to play when Cabot began its comeback. A Taylor basket with 5:14 remaining sparked an 11-4 Lady Panther run, which cut the Conway lead to 49-46 with just over three minutes remaining. That run ended with a CoCo Calhoon 3-point play.

Cabot had a chance to tie the game shortly after. Allen put up a contested 3-pointer from the corner, but the ball bounced in and out. The Lady Panthers got the offensive rebound, but missed the second shot of the possession and Tolefree got the ball and was fouled with 51 seconds left.

Tolefree made both free throws to give Conway a 51-46 lead, and teammate Hailey Estes added two more free throws to up the Lady Wampus Cat lead to 53-46 with 33 tics to go.

“We just couldn’t score there,” said Cabot coach Carla Crowder. “We had some droughts in scoring. I thought our game plan was great. I thought the kids did a great job. We’ve got kids that fight and battle and I’m just really so proud of them.”

Calhoon added a pair of free throws on the next possession, but that was all the points Cabot scored the rest of the way. Estes added two more free throws with 18 seconds remaining, setting the final score.

Though the Cabot girls came up short in the end, they gave Conway the toughest test it’s had in quite some time.

“It’s been a while,” said Conway coach Ashley Nance of the last time her team faced such a challenge from the opposing team, “probably Van Buren. So I guess the first (game) of the second round of conference when we played Van Buren. So it’s been a while.”

Conway has yet to lose to an in-state team this season. Its only loss came against Plano West (Texas). Conway’s leading scorer still had a good scoring night Thursday, but finished almost seven points below her season average and Nance was complimentary of Cabot’s stifling defense, especially on her best player.

“They weren’t going to let her score that again,” Nance said of Tolefree’s 45 points scored on Cabot in late November. “I thought they did an unbelievable job of frustrating her. Unfortunately with Lex that’s the key.

“She’s our scorer. She averages almost 27 a game. I don’t know what she had tonight, but it certainly didn’t seem smooth. She was out of her rhythm. I know she did some good things at crucial times, but I think for us to be successful, it’s mainly our role players that come through in the end.”

Cabot finished Thursday’s game 16 of 34 from the floor for 47 percent. Conway was 17 of 46 from the floor for 37 percent. Neither team shot well from 3-point range. The Lady Panthers were 2 for 15 from beyond the arc and the Lady Wampus Cats were 5 for 24. Both teams made 16 of 21 shots from the free-throw line.

The Lady Panthers outrebounded the 7A-Central champs 26-18, but Conway had fewer turnovers, finishing with 11 to Cabot’s 21 committed. Fifteen of Cabot’s turnovers were Conway steals.

Other than Tolefree, Savannah Lowe and Fut’ra Banks scored in double figures for Conway. Lowe had 14 points and Banks had 11.

Vanoss led Cabot with 16 points and seven rebounds. Taylor and Calhoon had nine points each. Taylor also had six rebounds and four steals. Allen scored seven points. Anna Sullivan had four points and six boards. Rachel Allgood had three points.

Cabot got to Thursday’s quarterfinal round with a 48-40 come-from-behind victory over Springdale on Wednesday. The Lady Panthers trailed 34-26 at the end of the third quarter, but outscored the Lady Bulldogs 22-6 in the fourth quarter to advance to Thursday’s game against Conway.

Sullivan led all scorers Wednesday with 17 points. Allgood scored nine, Taylor had eight points, Vanoss scored seven, Allen had three points, and Calhoon and Haley Sobczak scored two points each.

Thursday’s game was the final one in a Lady Panther uniform for seniors Taylor, Allgood, Sullivan, Calhoon, Madi Nichols and Lily Sinclair.

“They’re a good bunch of kids,” Crowder said of her seniors. “They work extremely hard. They’re good people. They’re better people than they are players and they’re great. I love them all.”