Friday, May 12, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers survive scare at 7A state

Leader sports editor

The Lady Panthers’ quest to return to the Class 7A state championship game endured a nerve-wracking and wet start Friday in Fort Smith. In a game that never felt as close as the score, Cabot found itself in a downpour and tied with Bryant with 14 minutes to go, but managed to control the action down the stretch to earn a 4-2 victory at Southside High School.

With 14:53 left in the match, Bryant’s Caroline Campbell scored a one-on-four goal to tie the match 2-2. It was a shocking turn of events in a game that the Lady Panthers had dominated in every facet.

Cabot led 2-1 at halftime, and Bryant’s first-half goal was equally as abrupt. The tying goal in the second half seemed to spark the Lady Hornets, and for the next two or three minutes, Cabot appeared on its heels as the Hornets aggressively attacked.

That’s when the Lady Panthers’ experience and conditioning took over.

Senior Hadley Dickinson stole a Bryant pass at midfield and delivered a perfect pass to Kiley Dulaney, who had gotten behind Bryant’s defenders.

With a one-on-one with the Bryant goalkeeper, Dulaney was tackled from behind and a foul was called. Dickinson took the penalty kick and slid it into the bottom left corner of the goal for a 3-2 Lady Panther lead.

Cabot coach Kerry Castillo was able to joke about it afterwards, but was feeling the stress until that goal.

“You talk about breaking the pressure,” said Castillo. “You could almost feel it after that penalty because all of a sudden they’re the ones who are under the gun. When they tied it I felt like I needed an AED. Then it was just a matter of will and fitness. Who was going to work, and who was going to be able to work in the final minutes to produce one more chance.”

When Castillo saw his squad withstand the initial intense attacking after the tying goal, he thought there were some things his players could exploit, and they came through.

“It was big in a game like this to have those seniors who have that experience,” Castillo said. It took a bit of composure on their part. We stayed organized and patient. They were pushing players forward and we were able to direct the ball to the center of the field where we kind of like to set traps. And then they passed it right into Hadley’s feet.”

Cabot added one more goal with 1:29 remaining when Tristyn Edgar took advantage of some Bryant indecisiveness. The Lady Hornet goalkeeper and a defender couldn’t decide whether to shield or pick up the ball. Edgar slipped in and poked it from in between them and into the goal.

“That was really kind of a big mistake they made there,” Castillo said. “And a player like Tristyn, you’re not going to get away with that. She saw a chance to sneak in and steal one and she took it.”

The Lady Panthers scored first seven minutes into the match. Dickinson passed from midfield to Dulaney on the left sideline. She took it all the way to end line behind the goal and skied a pass back towards Edgar, who had a clear path to the goal. Her first shot careened off the cross bar and right back to her, where she poked in the rebound for the 1-0 lead.

Campbell scored for Bryant 10 minutes later, but Cabot took the lead into halftime. This time Dickinson looped a high pass from one side of the field to the other, where Dulaney took it in the air and scorched on the ground from right to left into the corner of the goal.

Cabot (22-2) will face Fayetteville at 10 a.m. today in the semifinals. Fayetteville is responsible for one of Cabot’s two losses this year. The Lady Bulldogs beat Cabot 2-1 on March 4. The Lady Panthers avenged that loss with a 4-0 win just six days later. The winner of today’s game will play for the state championship next weekend at Razorback Field in Fayetteville.