Saturday, October 22, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers edged out by Wildcats

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Lady Panthers lost their regular-season finale at home Tuesday against North Little Rock, but the match still left the team and head coach Kham Chanthaphasouk optimistic about the state tournament that begins Tuesday in Springdale.

Cabot (17-15, 5-9) took 7A-Central Conference co-champions North Little Rock (21-7, 12-2) to the wire before falling 3-2 and snapping a three-match win streak.

Scores in the match were 25-23, 23-25, 25-22, 24-26 and 15-10 for the Charging Lady Wildcats.

“It would’ve been a lot nicer to hang on for the win, but we’re definitely playing better right now than we have all year,” said Chanthaphasouk. “If we could have started better we would have won. We gave away too many points in the first game and still almost came back to win it. We played really well after that. North Little Rock is so athletic. They have so many different players capable of big hits, and they have a really good setter that places the ball for them really well. We didn’t win this time, but it shows us that we are capable of beating the very best teams. It helps our confidence going to state.”

The first game was Cabot’s worst. The Lady Panthers had 10 unforced errors and missed five serves, giving the Lady Wildcats 15 points it didn’t have to work for in the opening game.

Game one was tied at 16 when the visiting team scored three-straight points. The margin stayed two or three until 24-21 when Cabot scored two straight to get within one point. North Little Rock’s Iman’I Jackson ended the game with a tip over the Cabot blockers into a hole in the defense.

Cabot took control early in game two and then had to hold off a furious NLR charge late. The Lady Panthers scored five-straight points, including two aces by Kaelee Simmons and three kills by Taylor Bell to take a 9-4 lead. That grew to as much as 19-13 before NLR began its comeback bid.

The Lady Wildcats tied the game at 22 after a long rally in which the NLR defense dug out two huge kill attempts by Cabot kill leader Maddie Brown. NLR’s Mya Thompson ended the rally with a massive hit from the back-row.

Cabot broke back instantly on a kill by Brown, and Hannah Freeman made it a two-point lead with an ace on the ensuing serve.

NLR broke, but Brown ended game two just as Jackson ended game one, with a tip into the middle of the defense that tied the match at one game apiece.

The visiting team controlled most of game three before Cabot rallied too little too late. NLR led 24-17 when Cabot put together a five-point rally on Regan Campbell’s serve. But the athletic Robinson ended that with another game-ending back-row kill.

Except for a brief period early, game four was neck and neck the entire way. Cabot suffered a brief lapse of three-straight unforced errors that gave NLR a 9-5 lead, but Lady Panther Mollie Johnson served four-straight points to knot the game up again.

Neither team led by more than one point the rest of the way until Cabot scored two-straight kills by Bell and Brown ended the game at 26-24.

Cabot then scored the first two points of the tiebreaker set, but a key mistake set off a series of three more that put NLR in control.

Simmons laid out flat on the floor to dig a huge hit by Robinson, but the rest of the team watched each other as the ball fell between them in the middle of the defense. That mistake gave NLR a 7-6 lead, and set off a series of five-straight unforced Cabot errors that left the visiting team with an 11-6 advantage that Cabot could not recover from.

“For the most part I’m pleased that we played better and I think it’s going to help us in the state tournament,” Chanthaphasouk said. “We had two major lapses, one in the first game and one in the last, but I think we proved to ourselves if nobody else, that if we can stay focused and avoid those, we can beat anybody.”

Brown led all players with 31 kills while Bell added 19 for Cabot. NLR had six players with at least five kills, and Robinson led them all with 22, and added 21 digs.

Simmons had 26 digs for Cabot while Brown added 16. NLR’s Taylor Greenwell led all players with 30 digs.

Brown, Freeman and Greenwell each served two aces in the match.

Cabot will be the six seed from the 7A-Central and will face 7A-West three seed Bentonville at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Har-Ber High School. A win in that match will mean a rematch with North Little Rock at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Other first round matches include West four seed Rogers taking on Central five seed Mount St. Mary. Central three seed Fort Smith Southside will face 7A-West six seed Bentonville West, and Central four Northside faces West five Van Buren.

Central co-champs Conway and North Little Rock received a bye, with Conway getting the one seed by tiebreaker rules. West champion Fayetteville and second-place Har-Ber also await the second round.