Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot girls take title at Fayetteville Farmington

Leader sports editor

Outstanding pitching and timely hitting led to the Lady Panther softball team winning the highly competitive Fayetteville/Farmington Softball Challenge over the weekend, going 5-0 in two days, including three shutouts, to bring home the first-place trophy.

Cabot never trailed in the tournament, and that was important in 70-minute time-limit games.

“If you can get runs right off the bat, that’s pretty key, especially with that time limit,” said Cabot coach Chris Cope. “It was a good overall effort. We beat some good teams. Our bats have come alive a little bit. We’re hitting the ball and putting it in play – making other teams play a little defense.”

Lauren McCluskey threw a one-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over Mena (1-7) in the opening game on Friday. Hannah Montgomery went 2 for 2 with two RBIs to lead Cabot offensively. Bethany Knowles and Rylie Hamilton got the only other base hits for Cabot, with Knowles recording an RBI and scoring two runs in the two-hole.

Next up was Bentonville West, and McCluskey pitched another shutout over five innings. The Lady Wolverines (7-3) managed two base hits. Cabot got nine hits in the game-two win, but was not as efficient with runners in scoring position. The Lady Panthers scored one run in each of the last four innings to set the final margin. Aubrey Lee went 3 for 3 with a run and an RBI. Grace Neal went 2 for 3 also with one run and one RBI.

On Saturday, McCluskey had to pitch her way out of trouble a few times in a 7-2 victory over Farmington. The Lady Cardinals piled up nine base hits, including a home run by Carley Antwine, but good defense kept most of those base runners stranded. That home run came in the bottom of the fifth after Cabot already built a 7-0 lead.

“Defensively we’re doing a lot better than when the season first started,” Cope said. “We’ve cut our errors about in half since the beginning of the year.”

Farmington threatened in the bottom of the first inning, but got too aggressive on the base paths. With runners on the corners and one out, Farmington tried a double steal, but Brandy Wallace was thrown out at home plate, and Alyssa Reed then grounded out to shortstop to end the inning.

The Lady Panthers’ first big inning came in the top of the second. Cleanup hitter Hannah Montgomery drew a leadoff walk before Lee put two in scoring position with a double to center field. McCluskey then singled to score to drive in one run, and a single by Rylie Hamilton drove in Lee and McCluskey’s courtesy runner, T. Peeples, for a 3-0 Cabot lead.

Farmington (6-4) put two on with one out again in the second inning, but Madison Parrish was picked off at second, and Camryn Journagan was thrown out trying to steal second by catcher Tracy Hanson.

Three-straight singles by Knowles, Neal and Montgomery started a four-run third inning by Cabot. Lee popped up for the first out, but McCluskey singled to center field to score Knowles while Neal was thrown out at third after tagging at second base.

That left two on for Hamilton, who tripled to the fence in right field for two RBIs, and then scored on a single by Anna Beth Duncan for a 7-0 lead.

In the championship doubleheader against Gravette, Cabot won by scores of 11-5 and 5-0. Montgomery got the win on the mound with four innings of work, and Cabot provided plenty of offense to support her, especially Montgomery herself.

She went 2 for 3 at the plate with a double, a home run and four RBIs. Lee went 1 for 3 with three runs batted in while Grace Neal and McCluskey got two hits apiece.

Cabot scored two in the top of the first and Gravette (6-6, 2-1) tied it at the bottom of the frame. The Lady Panthers then posted five in the second to take a commanding lead, then added four more in the third to go up 11-2. The Lady Lions scored three in the third but could get no closer.

McCluskey went back to the mound for the second game with Gravette, and pitched another two-hit shutout with two Ks and no walks. She also hit a two-RBI double in the bottom of the first inning, and added another RBI in the third to lead things offensively.

“We’re hitting it right now up and down the lineup,” Cope said. “One girl will have a good game one game, and then somebody else the next. And we’ve got girls that can swing it sitting on the bench, too. They just haven’t had the opportunity yet, just waiting their turn. We have a little more depth this year than we’ve had in the past. We’re starting four freshmen, and those are four of our top hitters.

Cabot (11-1, 2-0) will get back to 7A-Central Conference play on Tuesday with a home game against Conway (5-5-1, 1-1).