Friday, April 22, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers sweep NLR

Leader sports editor

Two late-game deficits were erased by two huge RBI base hits as the Cabot Lady Panthers got two big wins over North Little Rock this week. On Tuesday, the Lady Panthers beat the Charging Lady Wildcats 10-8 at home, then won 6-5 Thursday at Burns Park.

The victories were a big step towards clinching the 7A/6A-East championship and a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs. The Lady Panthers have two league series left against Little Rock Central and West Memphis.

On Tuesday, Cabot trailed 8-7 in the fifth inning when center fielder Bethany Knowles drilled a three-run home run over the fence in left-center field for what turned out to be the game-winning hit.

On Thursday, it was catcher Kaitlyn Felder that drove a high fly ball off the fence in right field for a two-RBI, game-winning double.

Cabot suffered a disastrous fourth inning on Tuesday, giving up all eight runs and falling into a six-run deficit. But Cabot coach Chris Cope knows it’s never time to panic with a lineup that swings the bat like his.

“It’s everybody,” said Cope. “It’s taken all of us. Every one of them, up and down the lineup, has come up with a big hit at some point. It’s taken all of them to get us where we are now. We never feel like we’re out of it.”

Felder hit a home run in the second inning of Tuesday’s game to give the Lady Panthers a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. But eight NLR base hits and three Cabot errors led to the big deficit in the fourth.

The Lady Panthers got four of them back in the bottom half of the same inning with six singles. In the fifth, Felder walked and pitcher Lauren McCluskey singled to left with one out. Both were replaced by courtesy runners before Macee Abbott grounded out to the pitcher, moving Tracy Hanson to third. Leadoff hitter Leah Gerald singled to center to score Hanson and leave runners on first and second.

That’s when Knowles stepped to the plate for her game-clinching home run.

North Little Rock out-hit Cabot in the offensive outing, picking up 14 base hits to Cabot’s 11. Despite five errors and a walk, the Lady Panther defense played well enough to thwart many other Charging Wildcat scoring opportunities.

Knowles went 2 for 4 with four RBIs to lead Cabot offensively. Anna Beth Duncan and McCluskey also got two base hits.

On Thursday, the Lady Panthers’ biggest deficit was just 3-1, but they trailed 5-4 when they came to bat in the top of the seventh inning. Heather Hill and Hannah Montgomery each hit singles to lead off the inning, but they were still at first and third with two outs when Felder stepped to the plate.

Felder sent the first pitch towering towards right-center field, where outfielders had been hampered all game long by standing pools of water from a pre-game downpour that delayed first pitch by 50 minutes. Right fielder Hannah Lovercheck plodded through the puddles and made a diving attempt as the ball caromed off the fence.

Cabot (15-3, 10-0) outhit NLR 12-7 in Thursday’s game. Gerald and Montgomery each got three base hits to lead the way.

McCluskey got the win in the circle in both games.

The Lady Panthers have a busy schedule next week. They will play at Central on Tuesday, at home against Sheridan on Thursday and home again on Friday for another game with Central.