Saturday, March 10, 2012

SPORTS >> Devils earn first win over Beebe

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devil baseball team got its first win of the season Wednesday, beating Beebe 2-1 in the final round of the Red Devil Classic at Dupree Park in Jacksonville.

The Red Devils got an excellent outing on the mound from senior starting pitcher D’Vone McClure. Freshmen Derek St. Clair got three up, three down in the fifth, and Jacksonville got two innings of shut-down relief from senior Jesse Harbin. The trio combined to no-hit the Badgers.

“The plan was to only throw Plucky (McClure) for two innings, but he kept going out there and throwing really well,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “St. Clair went in there and did a really good job of filling the gap because we didn’t want to throw Jesse for three. And of course we know what we’re going to get from him. He’s been through the battles and he’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve coached.”

Jacksonville got four hits in the game and committed two errors, but came up with big plays when they were needed. Getting a win was important, according to Burrows.

“I’m encouraged and I think the kids are encouraged,” Burrows said. “I’m happy for the win, but I’m mainly happy they played good enough to get a win. It’s frustrating when you’re competitive and can’t get a win. So this was good for them. I think we’re going in the right direction. It’s not all fixed in one outing for sure. It’s not going to be. We need six or seven weeks of continued progress and the last two games we’ve done that.”

Beebe pitcher Jay Aschbrenner also pitched a great game, throwing all seven innings, giving up just three hits, only one of which got out of the infield.

Jacksonville got on the board first in the bottom of the first inning.

Leadoff hitter Tanner Burks was hit by a pitch. He moved to second base on a deep fly ball to right field by McClure, then scored on a single up the middle by Harbin with two outs.

The Red Devils made it 2-0 in the bottom of the second. Freshman Caleb McDonald singled to lead things off, but wasn’t the one that scored. After Cole Bredenberg bunted McDonald to second, he was caught stealing third by Beebe catcher Byars Hatford.

David Williams then walked, and scored on an error at second base off the bat of Burks.

The Red Devils got one infield single in the third, and one in the sixth. They also got runners on after a strikeout passed ball, a hit batter and an error, but couldn’t push any of the runners across the plate.

Beebe wasn’t without base runners. Jacksonville walked five batters, hit two and committed two errors, but gutsy pitching by Jacksonville and Beebe’s own base running mistakes prevented the Badgers from completing a comeback.

In the top of the fourth, Justin Browning reached on an error with two outs. Aschbrenner was hit by a pitch on the next at bat and Zach May walked. Browning then scored on a wild pitch, but St. Clair fanned the next batter to get out of trouble.

St. Clair hit Beebe leadoff hitter Dakota Lovston with one out in the fifth inning, but picked him off at first for the second out. He then finished his day by getting Than Kersey to fly out to right field.

Jacksonville freshman catcher Greg Jones had a fine day behind the plate as well. He caught one Beebe base runner stealing second, and picked another off at first base.

He’s getting better, him and (Justin) Abbot,” Burrows said. “They’re going to get better. We get frustrated with them at times but they’re ninth graders and they’re working hard.

“With Jones, just the way he’s receiving the ball, the improvements he’s made in the last two weeks are really, really big. The improvements we’ve seen from those two are not things everybody else is going to see, but in the last three weeks, they’ve gotten a lot better.”

SPORTS >> Seniors fulfilling dream

Leader sportswriter

Senior leadership has been the heart of this year’s Cabot Lady Panthers team.

And when Melissa Wolff, Sydney Wacker and Laci Boyett take to the floor of Summit Arena today for tipoff against Fort Smith Northside in the 7A state championship game, it will be the realization of a long-shared dream between best friends.

Wacker and Boyett were the breakout players of the Cabot South freshman team back in 2009, while Wolff and Micah Odom were the stars across town for Cabot North. But when those forces combined a year later on Carla Crowder’s varsity team, it was the foundation of a team that would go on to make three consecutive state tournament appearances, including conference runner-up last season.

They were close last year, finishing runner-up to North Little Rock in the 7A Central Conference before making the semifinal round of the state tournament at Van Buren.

It was only a year ago, but the journey they’ve been on since that time has given them experience in several areas of life.

It all started in the summer when Wolff started getting interest from the University of Arkansas after being spotted on the Arkansas Mavericks AAU team. A scholarship offer came shortly thereafter, making Cabot’s hometown hero a household name across the state.

Then came the opening of the new arena to start the 2011-12 season. The old Panther Pavilion had served as Cabot’s basketball Mecca for over 50 years, but was run down and in need of replacement. The Lady Panthers said goodbye to their old gym with a season-opening victory over Searcy before taking to the road for a number of weeks while the old gymnasium could be finished.

When they finally did make it into the plush new Panther Arena located just a few feet south of its predecessor, they marked their territory well by winning the pre-holiday tournament in dominant fashion.

In all, they went 18-0 at home for the season with 17 of those victories on their new court, with their two most recent against Springdale Har-Ber and Little Rock Hall in the 7A state tournament to punch their ticket to Spa City.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Wolff said. “God gave us a great team, and so we’ve just got to take advantage of the opportunity and finish.”

Wolff and Odom have not only played basketball together since their grade-school days but also attend the same church, and the familiarity shows on the court. The same can be said for Wacker and Boyett, who dominate opponents inside more often than not.

“We’ve all been working for it since we were little, and that’s been our goal,” Boyett said. “When I met Melissa for the first time, our dads talked about how we would win state our senior year. Ever since then, that’s been our goal.”

SPORTS >> Bears very clear on final strategy

Leader sports editor

“Get back”. That’s been a key mantra for Sylvan Hills in the week of practice leading up to today’s class 5A state championship game at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. And it doesn’t mean get back to the state championship game that it lost last year to Alma.

The Bears’ opponent is the Mills Comets, a team the Bears have beaten twice this season, but one that is a potential danger for any opponent any time it takes the court. The two teams will take the court at 4:15 p.m. today for the final time this season.

What’s the danger in facing Mills? Relentless defensive pressure and effective offensive transition.

“Get back,” a phrase repeated by every Sylvan Hills Bear interviewed this week, means hustle back on defense and prevent Mills from doing what they do best, score in transition.

It’s sometimes hard to convince a team there’s been any sort of shortcoming against a team its beaten twice, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for the Bears this week.

“We need to get back on defense better because (Mills) is really good at running the floor,” Sylvan Hills senior Archie Goodwin said. “We’ve beat them twice but there’s a lot more on the line and we know they’re going to be playing harder. So we have to as well.”

Sylvan Hills starting five and the first two off the bench are seniors. They all remember last year’s state title game, a 17-point loss to Alma, and have used the sting of that defeat as motivation for not allowing another disappointment this year.

“It’s just that feeling,” Bears point guard Dion Patton said. “We use that. We don’t want to work to get all the way here just to be disappointed again. That’s definitely motivation.”

It’s also experience, and experience is something this team is rich in.

“I’ve said it over and over, but having a senior laden team is a big plus for us,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. “Especially this group of guys. They really take in what you’re trying to get across to them and they go out and execute it. Having been here before is an advantage for us.”

Though Davis knows his team’s opponent is not totally lacking some valuable experience. First-year Mills coach Raymond Cooper has been to the championship before with North Pulaski.

“He brought a few guys with him from North Pulaski that have been through some playoff battles,” Davis said. “You add those guys to an already extremely athletic group of kids and Mills, and you can see why they’re as good as they’ve been.”

The Comets have been a team with one gear all season long. That’s partly due to its personnel. Mills has no post play to speak of. But it does have speedy guards in abundance. Full-court pressure has been modus operandi for the Comets all year, and that’s not likely to change this week, despite two losses to their title-game opponent.

“We’re not changing anything,” Cooper said. “We do what we do. It’s going to be all-out pressure for 32 minutes, 94 feet. That’s what’s got us here, we just have to do it smarter than we’ve done so far against Sylvan Hills.”

Cooper believes his players got lost in the moment at times in their two losses to the Bears, rushing things and taking poor shots.

“In both games I thought we just made too many mental mistakes,” Cooper said. “When there was nothing there in transition, too many times we’d go ahead and try to force something. Or we’d try to penetrate all the way to the rim against their big men, when we could’ve stopped and shot an open, short jumper. We just made bad decision on offense. That’s the main thing we have to correct. We don’t have anyone who can go inside against their bigs. Most of their guards are even bigger than us. We have to be smarter than that and make better decisions.”

Sylvan Hills believes if it can stop Mills transition and force the Comets to set up in a half court offense, it will be advantage Bears. Though Davis believes his squad can run with any team, he thinks he has the more complete team that can be effective in versatile ways.
“We have to focus on what they do best,” Davis said of Mills. “If we can stop what they do best, which is forcing that tempo and scoring in transition, we should be in good shape.”

SPORTS >> Cabot girls facing storied Northside

Leader sportswriter

Top seeds will collide when Cabot and Fort Smith Northside meet to decide the 7A girls state championship at Summit Arena in Hot Springs at 2:30 p.m. today.

It will also be a battle of youth versus experience with a Lady Grizzlies team, which starts three juniors and two sophomores, set to face the senior-laden Lady Panthers. Cabot (26-5) starts three standout seniors in Melissa Wolff, Laci Boyett and Sydney Wacker, not to mention a heavy contribution off the bench from senior guard Micah Odom.

Northside is one of the most storied programs in the state. The Lady Grizzlies have won five state championships since 1999, the last of which came in 2007.

The Lady Panthers went 13-1 through the conference portion of their schedule and won the 7A Central championship outright with a close loss at North Little Rock in early January as their only setback in league play.

That gave them the No. 1 seed in the 7A state tournament and first-round bye. Cabot easily got by the quarterfinal round with a 71-48 win over West No. 4 seed Springdale Har-Ber before facing Little Rock Hall in a semifinals matchup that went to the wire with the Lady Panthers hanging on for a dramatic 57-55 victory.

The Lady Grizzlies (29-1) took the other first-round bye in the state tournament as the No. 1 seed out of the 7A West Conference after an unbeaten 14-0 campaign. That meant they did not play at all until Friday, the third day of the four-day tournament at Cabot High School.

Once their time came, however, the Lady Grizzlies took care of business in short order with a 44-37 victory over West No. 5 seed Bentonville in the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon to set up a semifinals showdown with Central No. 2 seed North Little Rock.

Northside played spoiler to the potential of an all-Central title game by defeating the Lady Charging Wildcats 66-55 in the late semifinal matchup on Saturday.

“We lost nine players off our state runner-up team last year,” Lady Grizzlies coach Rickey Smith said. “But we had a bunch of sophomores come in and play above their heads. It’s been an amazing season. There wasn’t a lot of hype at Northside to start the year; we felt like it was going to be a rebuilding year.”

Sophomore guards Brianna Jackson and Olivia Hanson are two underclassmen who have made enormous contributions as starters for Smith. Both players average over 10 points per game, as does junior forward Kilah Cummings. But another junior, 5-7 guard Bria Caldwell, leads Northside in scoring at 17 points per game.

“We know coming in that Cabot has the experience factor on their side,” Smith said. “But we also know it’s a 32-minute ballgame. We’re a young team, and we’re just excited to be there.”

Wolff, the 6-0 Cabot senior center and University of Arkansas signee, backed up a strong regular season with two more gritty performances in the state tournament, including 18 points against Springdale Har-Ber and 13 against Hall in the semifinal barnburner.

Wacker, who began playing her best basketball late in the regular season, did not get a lot of chances inside against Har-Ber and had just four points but came on strong against Hall with eight points, including two critical third-quarter baskets that denied the Lady Warriors a chance at overtaking the lead.

As for Boyett, she did not show up in the scorebook against Springdale Har-Ber on a night when Cabot’s outside-shooting game was near perfect.

But, when every possession and every point counted against the defensively-stingy Lady Warriors, she matched Wolff’s numbers with 13 points, including a 6-of-8 performance at the free-throw line. Odom has proved to be an equally serious scoring threat such as her 11 points against Springdale Har-Ber that included a three pointer and 6 of 8 from the charity stripe.

Cabot’s two junior starters, guards Elliot Taylor and Jaylin Bridges, also have plenty of experience as two-year starters. Bridges is the biggest outside-shooting threat for the Lady Panthers, and she proved it in the quarterfinals with 19 points that included five three pointers.

Taylor is so hard-nosed she actually broke her nose in early January against North Little Rock and wore a clear face guard for the remainder of the regular season.

She ditched the mask at the start of the tournament but did not let up on her game 12 points against Har-Ber and another eight against Hall.

“It’s a great opportunity for our kids,” Cabot coach Carla Crowder said. “I just hope we finish.”

EDITORIAL >> A big boost for air base

Politicians who have been demanding less government spending are furious that the Defense Department is making cuts at military bases across the country.

Governors and members of Congress whose states are affected by the cuts are screaming bloody murder. Not in their back yards, as far as these politicians are concerned.

The armchair strategists insist the Pentagon doesn’t know anything about calculating costs and should make cuts elsewhere. The cutbacks never make sense to the critics if they affect them. Fortunately, Little Rock Air Force Base has been spared the worst cuts. It will lose a couple dozen officers and civilians, but the base will likely get 370 new active-duty airmen in the fall who will be assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing under the leadership of Col. Brian Robinson.

That’s in addition to the new Detachment 1 Reserve unit going up at the base headed by Col. Edsel (Archie) Frye. The unit, which is part of the 22nd Air Force, will have more than 700 reservists and 10 C-130s. It will complement the Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing with its 790 airmen and 10 planes under the leadership of Col. Steve Eggensperger.

The world-champion 314th Airlift Wing, commanded by Col. Mark Czelusta, continues to train the best airlifters in the world with support from the 189th Airlift Wing and the Reserve unit.

The news is not good for the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith, which will lose its 21 A-10 Thunderbolt fighter jets and more than 200 Guard members.

We’re lucky that Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, is a strong supporter of Little Rock Air Force Base. He was based here as a young officer and has relatives in the area. Schwartz knows our base has the finest C-130s in the world. The fleet has done tremendous work around the globe, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It is also fortunate that Schwartz is putting new emphasis on a four-pronged strategy for a leaner Air Force: control of air and space, global mobility, global surveillance and reconnaissance and global strike.

Global mobility is right up there with the other key components of America’s new Air Force strategy. Global reach is what they do best at LRAFB, delivering personnel and supplies and saving lives in the process.

Because the service will be smaller—some 10,000 airmen and hundreds of planes will be scrapped—the Air Force needs more versatility and must respond more quickly to contingencies, Schwartz said. “That’s part of the rationale for the adjustments in the force mix that we proposed in the (fiscal 2013) budget,” the general pointed out.

Schwartz said it’s more important than ever before to maintain quality. It’s not enough for officials to say the Air Force is good, he added. “We really have to be good,” he insisted.

That’s always been the policy at Little Rock Air Force Base: They’re very good at what they do. Many thanks for all your great work and may your numbers multiply in the years ahead.

TOP STORY >> Company sets its sights on Walmart

Leader staff writer

Three Lonoke County residents have their sights set on the big leagues of the business world and hope the public will help them hit their target.

Kristy Underwood, Todd Underwood and their longtime friend, Curtis O’Hare, have entered Toxic Mallard Apparel, a casual clothing line for hunters, into Walmart’s national Get on the Shelf contest.

Visitors to can vote, through Facebook or a text message, on what product they want to see at the largest retail store in the world.

The Toxic Mallard Apparel line offers T-shirts, hoodies, beanies, hats, bracelets and necklaces, but Todd Underwood said it could expand to include polo and button-up shirts if the product wins the contest.

The logo that identifies the line is an altered biohazard symbol with ducks and dear heads.

Anyone with something to sell could have entered a product into the contest, which started yesterday, by submitting a video about the item. The video about Toxic Mallard Apparel is available at

Text 2369 to 383838 to vote for Toxic Mallard Apparel or click the button on that page that says, “Vote using Facebook.”

The first round of voting ends on April 3. The Top 10 will be chosen and two more weeks of voting will narrow those contestants to three finalists.

More voting commences. The items with the most votes will be sold on and in all of the company’s stores unless the seller doesn’t agree with Walmart’s terms and conditions.

In that case, the seller would get $13,000 and walk away, Todd Underwood said. The second and third place products will be sold on

Kristy Underwood owns a print shop, which she operates out of her home at 317 Underwood Lane in Lonoke.

Her husband and O’Hare are hunters. Todd Underwood said, “It was one of those ideas that came out of staring at the ceiling and playing around with ideas.”

His wife said, “It would be huge to see something we personally came up with and designed there (at Walmart). We have bright colors. A lot of the colors (available in hunting apparel) are dull. It’s something you can wear out to let people know you’re a hunter.”

Todd Underwood said, “It’s a little more fun and relaxed. You don’t have to wear camouflage all the time.”

O’Hare said, “Everything else went wild and crazy but it hadn’t come to this yet.”

Toxic Mallard Apparel is sold at found at Fort Thompson Sporting Goods in Sherwood, Hays Western Wear in Judsonia, Hunter’s Refuge in White Hall, Simmons’ Sporting Goods in Louisiana, Cabot Gun and Ammo, Camouflage Shop in Louisiana, McSwain Sports Center in North Little Rock and Southern Outfitters in Sheridan.

TOP STORY >> Gun-toting teacher fired

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville High School teacher arrested in January for inadvertently bringing a gun to the campus may not be prosecuted, but she is appealing the Pulaski County Special School District’s decision to fire her.

English teacher Jennifer Paul, 55, of Jacksonville was charged with possession of a handgun on school property — a class D felony — after a student stole it from her purse. According to the police report, she has a concealed-carry permit and forgot to take the gun out of her purse before going to school.

Paul could get up to six years in the state penitentiary and a fine of up to $10,000 if she is convicted.

The student, whose name will not be released because he is a juvenile, was apprehended quickly and no one was injured.

He was charged with theft, and being a minor in possession of a handgun on school property, and then turned over to the Juvenile Justice Center.

According to the police report, classmates saw him take the gun and conceal it in his waistband. They reported the theft immediately.

Paul appeared in Jacksonville District Court on Jan. 17. Her next court date is April 11.

The state has submitted a motion to voluntarily discontinue criminal charges.

The motion has not been approved or denied.

PCSSD spokeswoman Deborah Roush said Paul was suspended with pay but she didn’t know whether the teacher has received compensation since the termination papers were delivered.

Roush said Paul has requested a hearing to appeal her firing and that will be held on Tuesday.

The human resources office made the recommendation for termination after the department investigated the incident. Superintendent Jerry Guess upheld the recommendation.

Roush said that in this situation teachers appealing such a decision would plead their case before the school board.

Because the state took over PCSSD in June, dissolving the school board and removing the superintendent, state Education Commission Tom Kimbrell appointed a panel for the hearing.

“To make it more fair,” Roush said.

This is the second gun incident at JHS in less than two years.

On Feb. 26, 2012, two shop teachers and a counselor were suspended with pay after a gun was found in the counselor’s car on campus.

Pamela Perez, 53, of Beebe had a concealed-carry license too. There was a .380 handgun in the driver’s-side door pocket of the car and the weapon was visible.

Two 15-year-old students found the gun and reported it to the shop teacher, Wayne Griffin, 39, of Cabot after Perez brought the car to the auto shop for an oil change.

Griffin told another shop teacher, James Poindexter, 38, of Conway, according to the police report.

Poindexter took the gun, removed the seven-round clip and put it in a locked storeroom.

Poindexter told Perez what happened and she made plans to pick up the gun after school.

Then-principal Kenneth Clark heard about the incident and called police. They took the gun, clip and ammunition into their custody.

Perez, Poindexter and Griffin were immediately suspended with pay until the police and the district completed their investigations.

They were not charged with any crime and returned to work.

TOP STORY >> Woman with seizures relies on dog

Leader staff writer

Officers of the Arkansas Grand Chapter Order of the Eastern Star were at the Jacksonville chapter at the Jacinto Masonic Temple on Marshall Road last week to induct Lorrie Thiel of the South Bend community into the Eastern Star.

Easter Star helps raise money for service dog programs and provides medical insurance for service dogs.

Thiel, who has as many as two epileptic seizures a week, was accompanied by Galahad, her seizure-alert dog.

Thiel began having lower- body seizures after a car wreck in 1989 and progressed to full epileptic seizures in 2008.

Thiel was given her first seizure-alert dog, Schultzy, in 2005. Schultzy picked out Galahad, Thiel’s second service dog, from a litter of puppies. Schultzy helped Thiel train Galahad for a year until Schultzy developed cancer and had to be put down.

Thiel had Galahad for three years and said he’s given her a second lease on life.

“Five minutes before I have a seizure, Galahad mumbles and pulls on my clothes. I’m able to sit down in a safe spot, so I don’t fall down,” she said.

Galahad wears a backpack carrying medication for Thiel’s seizures. If she’s having problems, Galahad will seek help.

“He’ll shake for you to hear the pills rattle and he’ll rub the backpack against you, so you can feel the bottles,” Thiel said.

Galahad can also detect when other people are going to have seizures.

Thiel’s car accident also damaged her nerves and discs in her lower spine. She has difficulty bending down. Galahad helps by picking items up off the floor or will carry things from across the room to her.

“He is my knight in shining armor. I was 40 years old and I had two teenage boys. I was in a wheelchair taking so much medicine, I didn’t know what I was watching on TV. It was colorful,” Thiel said.

Thiel said she didn’t remember conversations with people after she spoke with them.

“That’s not living, that’s surviving. My dog allows me to have an independent life,” she said.

Thiel’s dog is with her at all the time. Galahad goes to restaurants, doctor offices, grocery store and rides with Thiel in the ambulance.

Galahad’s name is from King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

To repay her gratitude, Thiel trains seizure-alert service dogs for free. She said seizure-alert dogs cost around from $15,000 to $40,000. Insurance will not pay for them. She works with all types of dogs rescued from animal shelters.

“Why not give them to someone who will love, care and treat them as someone who needs to be spoiled,” Thiel said.

She is currently training a golden retriever lab mix to become a service dog for someone with a disability.

Thiel said a 20-minute trip to Walmart takes two hours. People come up and ask her about Galahad, and she tells them about service dogs.

“I don’t mind answering questions,” she said.

Thiel is on the board of directors for the Disability Rights Center of Arkansas, an advocacy group.

“If people see a service dog, always ask before petting it. Seeing-eye and hearing-ear dogs should not be petted. Not everyone wants their service dog petted. It’s like someone putting their fingers in your eyes or ears. I don’t mind my dog being petted, but ask first,” Thiel said.

If you have questions about service dogs, you can send e-mail Thiel at

TOP STORY >> More airmen slated for LRAFB

Leader editor in chief

Little Rock Air Force Base could see gains of up to 1,100 airmen and get approval for a less expensive avionics upgrade of aging C-130s, which would allow them to fly longer.

While much of the Air Force is downsizing, including the Air National Guard’s 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith, a proposal in next fiscal year’s defense budget could mean a 6 percent increase in active-duty manpower at the base here.

Nationwide, the Air Force may eliminate 10,000 airmen and 65 C-130s. The Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing here could lose one C-130 and the new Reserves unit could lose two in the next five years.

The Air Force plans to send 370 active-duty airmen to the 19th Airlift Wing on base. This would be in addition to the Reserves unit forming here with 790 people. (See editorial, p. 6A.)

If approved, this plan could be implemented on Oct. 1, when the new budget goes into effect, according to 2nd Lt. Mallory Glass, 19th Airlift Wing public affairs chief.

The airmen would be a mix of transfers from other bases and new enlistments, she said.

Glass emphasized that this proposal is not set in stone.

“We’re still weighing in on those marching orders, as we like to call them. As the military restructures itself to be more fiscally responsible, we’re leading the way in that. People are being moved.”

Glass said the base doesn’t know yet where the airmen would be transferred from or what the economic impact would be on the base and the community.

But Glass said this would “invest in our future.”


Glass was echoing the views of Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, who recently told the Defense Writers Group that as budgets drop, the Air Force must concentrate on four basic areas: control of air and space, global mobility, global surveillance and reconnaissance and global strike.

“Those areas clearly remain relevant to the strategy that focuses on the Asia-Pacific and the (Persian) Gulf region,” Schwartz told reporters.

Because the service will be smaller, Schwartz said Air Force officials must have “more versatility in the force structure that remains, especially when it comes to surge requirements and overseas rotations.”

“That’s part of the rationale for the adjustments in the force mix that we proposed in the (fiscal year 2013) budget,” the general said.

Operations and maintenance funding will become a key aspect of this smaller force, Schwartz said, and will become more important in maintaining quality. It’s not enough for officials to say the Air Force is good, he added.

“We really have to be good,” he said.

Col. Brian Robinson, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, has been a player in worldwide global airlift. He was previously the executive assistant to Gen. Raymond Johns, the commander of Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

To reduce the budget, the Air Force has backed away from the ambitious and expensive avionics modernization program and is expected to opt instead for the less expensive communications, navigation and surveillance air traffic management system.

Schwartz said recently the Air Force could save about $4 billion by switching from the AMP and by reducing the number of conversions from 221 to 184.

The latest program could be installed for about $2.5 billion.

The older planes aren’t compliant with more demanding standards required by the Federal Aviation Agency by 2015 and throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world no later than 2017.

It’s a matter of safety as well as efficiency, especially in Europe, where air corridors are crowded. Without meeting the new standards, the older planes will have to fly around civilian air space.

The 19th and the 314th Airlift Wings, the two largest units on base, have seen minor reductions. At year’s end, the base eliminated 41 civilian jobs and has retired some 20 young officers. But both the Reserves and Air National Guard are still recruiting new members with $20,000 signing bonuses.

The 314th Airlift Wing has transitioned to an all-modern C-130J training unit. The 19th Airlift Wing, the host unit at the base, leads the global C-130J combat airlift mission.

The 189th and the Reserve unit each have 10 legacy C-130s. The Guard has four planes that have been modified with new avionics, including new cockpit panels and extensive rewiring from Boeing, although the planes are now grounded.

Until the cancellation earlier this year of the avionics modernization program, new parts were being installed at Warner Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia at a cost of at least $7.5 million each.

The AMP modifications re-place analog controls and displays with digital, standardize the 30 different C-130 cockpit configurations and upgrade and standardize communication, navigation and air traffic management, have a glass cockpit, including so-called heads-up displays, night-vision imaging and will meet operational conditions.

They also reduce the size of the flight crew from five to four and make the cockpit compatible with that of the state-of-the-art C-130J. The 19th and 314th Airlift Wings are transitioning to all C-130Js.

Leader staff writers John Hofheimer and Sarah Campbell contributed to this report.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Big-tent party not open to all

One of the most dramatic changes we’ve seen since The Leader started 25 years ago is the Republican Party’s takeover in Lonoke County.

The changes began slowly, with an occasional Republican GOP justice of the peace and then another getting elected to the Lonoke County Quorum Court. Former Rep. Randy Minton (R-Ward) started making waves in the legislature and suddenly the floodgates opened. More and more Republicans replaced Democratic county officials, who are now becoming an endangered species in Lonoke County.

The quorum court has been Republican-dominated for years. County Judge Doug Erwin, a Republican freshman, ousted a veteran Democrat. Even the coroner’s job could go to a Republican this year.

Four Republicans and two Democrats are running for sheriff to succeed Jim Roberson, another Republican who succeeded a Democrat and who is retiring after 10 years in office.

A couple of former Democratic office holders are trying to make a comeback by switching parties, although local GOP officials question their sudden conversion. Toby Troutman, the son of former Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman, a Democrat, may not be eligible to run for the quorum court as a Republican because he’s facing a forgery charge. He could clear his name, but probably not before the primary.

EDITORIAL >> A successor in waiting

Mike Huckabee will soon kick off his syndicated radio talk show to compete with Rush Limbaugh, whose program is in serious trouble after his mindless attack last week on a young Georgetown University Law School student named Sandra Fluke. Some 25 advertisers have quit Limbaugh’s program.

Although Huckabee’s talk show was first announced several weeks ago, he is certain to benefit from Limbaugh’s meltdown. The former governor should provide a sane conservative alternative to Rush’s tiresome old shtick — and we mean old and tiresome: Much of his audience has abandoned him over the years, and his ratings, in any case, were often exaggerated. More accurate measures of the number of people listening to the program confirm a steep decline. He now ranks eighth in the Washington radio market.

Huckabee has always done well on radio and he has a successful weekend show on Fox News. He’s an engaging personality with a country preacher’s soothing voice who can sugarcoat his prejudices without hurting too many feelings. He didn’t have much of a chance of unseating the radio king until last week, when Limbaugh went wild and just couldn’t shut up about the young woman. (“Ms. Fluke, who bought your condoms in junior high?” he asked.)

Limbaugh, a college dropout who has struggled with a drug dependency for years, picked the wrong fight with a much smarter adversary. He called her “a slut,” “a prostitute” and “a feminazi” and suggested she should perform in sex videos for his personal edification if she wanted free contraceptives. Actually, she pays for health insurance at Georgetown Law School, whose insurance policies do not offer contraceptives to students and employees. But even Georgetown has defended her right to speak out and has called Limbaugh’s outbursts unacceptable.

His radio syndicate says Limbaugh was engaging in “absurdist humor.” Absurd yes, but what’s funny about calling a young woman a prostitute and a slut on the air for three days? Shock jock Don Imus was mild-mannered in comparison. He called the women’s Rutgers University basketball team “nappy-head hos” once. Overnight, it destroyed Imus’ 45-year-radio career.

Imus met with the basketball team and said he was sorry, but his syndicated program was still canceled. Imus is now on the low-rated Fox Business News Channel, where he’s urged Limbaugh to apologize to Ms. Fluke in person.

Limbaugh knows he blew it this time and has issued several tepid apologies. He’ll probably have to apologize to Ms. Fluke a few more times if he wants to stay on the air, or follow Glenn Beck to the Internet. Beck went online after advertisers dropped him for racist remarks.

Huckabee seldom resorts to name calling. He’s not a racist. He’ll tell you what he believes. Even when he’s disagreeable, especially when he pardoned killers and rapists when he was governor, he didn’t return our criticism with insults.

Good luck with the new radio show, governor. Here’s hoping you’ll bring more civility to the airwaves.

TOP STORY >> Unions sue PCSSD to stop end run

Leader senior staff writer

Against the backdrop of ongoing cost-cutting negotiations and mediation between the Pulaski County Special School District and its two employee unions, the unions have sued to deny two just-formed personnel policy committees from exercising any authority.

“The plaintiffs are entitled to an order declaring that the committee to which the defendants allegedly have been elected is invalid and the committee and the defendants have none of the rights, powers or privileges,” according to language in each of the two suits.

The district and the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the Pulaski Association of Support Staff are renegotiating the existing contracts as the district seeks to come out of fiscal distress by cutting the 2012-13 budget by $13.5 million compared to the budget passed a year ago.

The district and the teachers have agreed on about $6.5 million in cuts, including decreasing the district’s contribution to health care and teachers agreeing not to seek raises, but that leaves the district seeking to cut another $7 million from the district’s $170 million budget.

Because 80 percent of the district’s budget is salaries, it is likely that Superintendent Jerry Guess and chief financial officer Bill Goff hope to get most of that money from salaries and benefits of teachers, support staff and administrators.

Guess and Goff say they want an $8 million legal fund balance (carryover), but the teachers are likely to identify that as a place to cut.

Mediation resumes this morning.

But before the personnel-policy committees met for the first time, the two unions are claiming that the two committees are illegal and improper because union contracts are already in force, because ineligible people helped deliver ballots and because they weren’t formed in October (support staff) or during the first quarter of the school year (teachers) as required by law.

Both suits were filed Monday afternoon by the Mitchell Blackstock law firm and contain essentially the same language.

In Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin’s court, plaintiffs PASS, Lonnie Coney and Belinda Pearl are suing support staff personnel policy committee members Keith Cooper, Cheryl Howey, Regena English, Becky Del Rio and James Watson.

In the other suit, filed in Circuit Judge Mary McGowen’s court, PACT is joined by Judy Stockrahm and Loveida Ingraham as plaintiffs, seeking declaratory judgement against defendants Robin Dorey, Callie Matthews,Kristina Laughy and Ella Sergeant.

PCSSD may have been expecting to rescind its recognition of the unions as bargaining agents—which could be easy because the district is in fiscal distress and the state Education Department dissolved the board, making Education Com-missioner Tom Kimbrell a one-man board.

The district may be hoping it can negotiate with a pair of personnel policy committees that may be less hardened in their positions than the unions.

Most districts negotiate contracts with such committees, but state law says that where unions have been elected to represent employees, the unions are the bargaining agents.

TOP STORY >> Leader looks back on first 25 years

Leader staff writer

There has been a millennium of changes in the world and even in the local area since The Leader first appeared 25 year ago on March 4, 1987.

But many things have remained the same.

The top story in the first issue was about the paper itself—how it was free, family-owned and wanting to give the best community coverage possibly.

Twenty-five years later, the paper is not free, but at 50 cents per copy it works out to about a penny or less per news item. The paper is still family-owned, and more of the family has grown into the business.

In 1987, it was Garrick and Eileen Feldman, but since then they have been joined by daughter Aliya and son Jonathan, who now serves as editor.

In 1987, Garrick Feldman said, “This is a growing community with a tremendous vitality and we want to chronicle the events, both small and large that are taking place here.”

That is still the role of The Leader, and the community has expanded to include not only Jacksonville and Sherwood, but also Cabot, Lonoke, Ward, Austin, Carlisle and Beebe.

The paper has been honored throughout the years for its strong community coverage and has won best weekly in its category for the last four years.

On the front page of that first edition was an article about the Pulaski County Special School District and how the district needed “additional funds to meet state education standards.”

Guess what?

Twenty-five years later funding is still a major topic for PCSSD, which is now under state control because of financial mismanagement.

In that article there were statements about the judge presiding over segregation problems of the district. Almost a half dozen judges later, the district has still not cleared up its segregation problems.

In another 1987 front-page article, Sherwood Mayor Jack Evans, in his state-of-the-city address touted the city’s population growth, up to 14,000 then.

In a state-of-the-city address given just recently by Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman, she touted the city’s growth, which at 30,000-plus, has surpassed Jacksonville.

Also in the first edition, Rev. Lyndon Whitledge of the local chapter of the National Federation of Decency protested the sale of pornography within city limits of Jacksonville.

Whitledge, who is still with us and still pushing for a better moral community, said then, “The community is worth fighting for. We want it to be a safe place for our children and our wives.”

Amen to that, Rev. Whitledge.

TOP STORY >> Older C-130s could still get new avionics

Leader senior staff writer

Four crews certified on the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program at Little Rock Air Force Base are maintaining three orphaned aircraft while the Air Force decides how to move forward modernizing its older C-130 aircraft.

About one-third of the 80 C-130s stationed at the base are state-of-the-art C-130Js. Of those, 16 are with the operational 19th Airlift Wing, 10 assigned to the 314th Airlift Wing schoolhouse, according to spokesman Arlo Taylor.

The Air Force had been planing to upgrade as many as 221 older C-130s.

To reduce its budget, the Air Force has backed away from the ambitious and expensive AMP upgrade and is expected to opt instead for the less expensive communications, navigation and surveillance air traffic management system.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said recently the Air Force could save about $4 billion by switching from the AMP, and by reducing the number of conversions from 221 to 184.

The latest program can be installed for about $2.5 billion.

Schwartz told Aviation Week that over time, the mid-size transport planes would nearly all be state-of-the-art C-130J aircraft, and the planned AMP conversions were too expensive.

Regardless of the final configuration, the base is expected to continue in its role as the C-130 schoolhouse.

The older planes aren’t compliant with more demanding standards required by the Federal Aviation Agency by 2015 and throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world no later than 2017.

It’s a matter of safety as well as efficiency, especially in Europe where air corridors are crowded. Without meeting the new standards, the older planes will have to fly around civilian air space.

A fifth and perhaps final AMP kit is being installed at Warner Robbins Air Force Base.

“I do not know the direction the Air Force is trying to go,” Boeing spokeswoman Jennifer Hogan said.

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Little Rock) is co-founder of the C-130 AMP caucus in Congress. He said he’s hoping the AMP will be reinstated and noted that the C-130 AMP requires four crewmen, one fewer than will likely be required to operate an older C-130 with CNS/ATM upgrades.

The Air Force says about 180 of the older planes could be converted to the CNS/AMT system.

To some extent, the CNS/ATM upgrades have been installed in some C-17 and the military is reportedly pushing to make its KC-135 and KC-10 tanker fleets fully compliant with the standards.

Even with cuts in air mobility, Schwartz says the Air Force will have 275 large transport planes and 318 smaller transports. They will be able to fly about 30.5 million ton-miles a day, slightly more than the current estimate of need.

The Air Force is cutting its air mobility capacity, but will still have all the transport it needs, Schwartz said.

SPORTS >> Sylvan Hills destroys Greenwood in semis

Leader sports editor

It looked like the West Conference might be the downfall of Sylvan Hills again in the class 5A state tournament at Greene County Tech High School in Paragould. After struggling badly in the quarterfinals and barely beating the three seed Morrilton Devil Dogs, Sylvan Hills had to face two seed Greenwood. The Bulldogs were bigger and more experienced than Morrilton and had beaten the Devil Dogs twice this season.

Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis and his staff saw some things, implemented a special game plan and his senior-laden squad followed the plan perfectly. The result was an anticlimactic, but utterly dominant performances, as the Bears pummeled Greenwood 68-34 to advance to the championship game Saturday in Hot Springs for the second-straight year.

The Bears will face the Mills Comets for third time this season in the championship game, scheduled for 4:15 p.m. Saturday at Summit Arena.

“It’s one thing to make observations and pass that along to your kids,” Davis said. “It’s something else for them to take what you told them and implement it during the game. These kids are seniors. They’re experienced, and they took the things we talked about seriously. They went out and did the things we talked about and you can see the results.”

The Bears played Greenwood almost as if it were a three-person team. Point guard Drew Morgan, post player Ethan Clark and guard-forward scorer Ryan Lensing drew almost all of Sylvan Hills’ defensive attention during the game.

Even to the point where Bear defenders would rush to those players during Bulldog transitions, leaving other players wide open. Lensing and Clark scored 12 and 11 points respectively to lead the Bulldogs, but the strategy worked. Add in Morgan’s four points, and the rest of the team combined for seven points.

“At this point in the year, it’s time to adjust some things if you think it’s going to help you,” Davis said.

While Lensing and Clark have led Greenwood in scoring all season, it’s Morgan that runs the show and makes the offense work for the Bulldogs. Morgan is also left handed, and Sylvan Hills’ guard Dion Patton defended him heavily to his left side, almost daring Morgan to try to go right. Morgan could not get past Patton’s defense.

The Sylvan Hills senior point guard had five steals in the first quarter alone. The Bears forced Greenwood into 13 first-half turnovers and Patton finished with 10 steals.

The Bears also overplayed the passing lanes to Lensing and Clark, getting several more steals by flashing those lanes in their halfcourt defense.

“I wasn’t counting them,” Patton said of his steals. “I didn’t know I had that many, but I wanted to apply pressure on the ball and play aggressively. The whole team came out focused on playing good defense.”

Sylvan Hills post player Devin Pearson, who drew the task of defending Clark one-on-one, said. “We talked about who their scorers were. We talked about who was left handed and who was right handed. Mostly we just wanted to play defense as well as we possibly could.”

The Bears began pulling away from the opening tip. Patton not only got five steals in the first quarter, he also scored six points, all off transition buckets after steals. He dished out three assists in the quarter as well and helped balance the scoring by distributing the ball in transition.

The Bears led 21-9 after the first quarter and Greenwood could never get close enough again to make much of a game. The margin grew to 21 points by halftime. The third quarter was fairly even as Sylvan Hills went through a bit a shooting drought. The Bears still outscored Greenwood 15-13 and led 51-28 heading into the fourth.

Sylvan Hills found its touch and stepped on the gas again offensively in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 quick points and invoking the mercy rule at the 5:32 mark with a 61-31 lead.

Goodwin scored 24 to lead the Bears while Patton added 14. Larry Ziegler scored eight while Pearson and Daylon Jones added six each for the Bears.

Friday’s game wasn’t nearly as easy. Morrilton caught fire late in the second quarter and didn’t cool down until the last half of the fourth quarter. Sylvan Hills somehow managed to keep it close and won the game with Goodwin on the bench for the final four minutes after fouling out with 3:56 left to play.

Morrilton led 57-55 at the time of Goodwin’s exit, but scored just two more points the rest of the game.

“That was just another example of a senior-laden team digging deep and finding a way,” Davis said. “Morrilton was shooting the lights out of the place and then we lose our best scorer. The kids knew it was going to come down again to defense, and they just went out and got it.”

SPORTS >> Hurricanes stun Devils

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville started strong in the semifinals of the 6A state tournament against Jonesboro, but the Hurricanes slowly played its way back into the game and dominated the fourth quarter to beat Jacksonville 63-42 Saturday at Wildcat Arena in El Dorado.

The Red Devils were up 13-4 at the end of one quarter of play. Jonesboro scored the first seven points of the second quarter, but at the break Jacksonville was up five. Jonesboro started the second half with a 5-0 run that tied the score at 21.

After a quick timeout, Jacksonville went on a run of its own, scoring the next 11 points to take a double-digit lead. The Hurricanes kept playing, and at the end of the quarter, Jonesboro post player Rodrick Pugh stole the ball at half court and laid in an easy bucket to tie the score at 34 going into the fourth.

“We tied it right out of there, and then the next thing I know we’re down six or seven, and then it got up to 11,” said Jonesboro coach Wes Swift about Jacksonville’s run in the third quarter. “At that point we needed to make some shots. Our shots weren’t on the mark, and we were missing some one-and-ones, and that’s just uncharacteristic of our basketball team. I think it’s just nerves.”

Jonesboro played its best when it mattered most. Senior guard Jacob Gibson, one of the best shooters in the state, sparked Jonesboro’s furious fourth quarter run with two straight three-pointers out of the gate to give the Hurricane its first lead of the game.

After that it was all Jonesboro as the Hurricane outscored the Red Devils 29-8 in the final quarter to earn the decisive win, and a trip to the state finals.

“We were playing hard but making mistakes on both ends, and that’s just playing too fast, and the guys just needed to settle down,” Swift said. “There was nothing any of the coaches could say. They just needed to see some shots go down, and once the shots went down, they settled down and started playing.”

Jacksonville dominated the boards, out-rebounding Jonesboro 27-15, but the Hurricane won the turnover battle by a better margin. Jonesboro had 12 turnovers for the game, and only four in the second half. Jacksonville finished with 28, 17 of which came in the second half.

“A lot of it was our guard play,” said Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner about the turnovers in the second half. “If my guards hold up then we’re ok. We were breaking their press easily the first time.

“They didn’t change the press. We didn’t change the way we attacked it. They just changed the way they made their decisions, and that’s just the bottom line. They stopped doing what we practiced on, and started throwing it away. That was the difference.”

This is the first time Jonesboro has beaten Jacksonville in three years, going 0-4 against the Red Devils last year, and 0-2 in the regular season this year. Along with excellent defensive play, the Hurricane pulled off the upset with terrific three point shooting, hitting 50 percent of their shots from the perimeter. Jacksonville hit just two threes in the game for 33 percent.

The Red Devils shot exceptional from the line, hitting 90 percent of their free throws while Jonesboro made 78 percent of its free throws.

Senior guard DeWayne Waller was the only Jacksonville player to finish in double figures. Kahron Ross scored a game-high 16 points for the Hurricane. Jayln McBride and Gibson scored 15 points apiece for Jonesboro, who plays Parkview at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

SPORTS >> Panthers clip Jacksonville at Classic

Leader sports editor

The first round of the Red Devil Classic baseball tournament was not a kind one to local teams. Host team Jacksonville, along with Cabot, Sylvan Hills and Beebe, all lost their opening games on Saturday.

Cabot opened the tournament losing 2-1 to Little Rock Christian Academy. Beebe fell 4-1 to Little Rock Central, Sylvan Hills lost 4-2 to Greenbrier and the Red Devils fell 14-8 to Vilonia.

That set up a second-round matchup between old rivals Jacksonville and Cabot on Monday. Cabot (3-1) was looking for some revenge from last year’s 27-4 shellacking at the hands of the class 6A champions, and got a modicum of it, beating the host team 6-3 in seven innings to advance to the consolation bracket final.

“I’d played them every year since I started coaching and never lost to them,” Cabot coach Jay Fitch said. “That is until last year and they got just about all of it back with that one game.

Cabot jumped out to a 4-0 lead with three runs in the second and another in the top of the third.

Casey Vaughan got the Panthers’ first run. After getting hit by a pitch, Chipper Morris singled and Jordan Castillow was hit by pitch to load the bases. Leadoff hitter Bryson Morris then doubled to drive in all three runners.

Jacksonville (0-3) helped Cabot out in the third inning after Kason Kimbrell led off with a single. After a strikeout, Justin Goff and Zachary Patterson each reached on errors, with Kimbrell scoring on the E7 off Patterson’s at bat.

Jacksonville got a lot of it back with one swing of the bat in the bottom of the third inning.

With one out, Jacksonville’s lead off hitter Tanner Burks and two-hole hitter Kaleb Reeves got back-to-back singles to put two runners on for Arkansas Razorback signee and centerfielder D’Vone McClure.

McClure fell behind in the count, but made up for when Cabot pitcher Dustin Morris hung a curveball high in the strike zone. McClure knocked over the left field fence to make it 4-3, where it stayed until the top of the seventh.

Cabot added two runs to the lead after the first three batters of the inning reached base. Bryson Morris walked to start things off. Kimbrell popped up a bunt down the first baseline. Jacksonville pitcher Blake Perry couldn’t get to it before it hit the ground, then threw over first base to leave runners on the corners. T.C. Carter then singled to centerfield to score Morris from third. Goff sacrificed to put runners at second and third and Jacksonville intentionally walked Patterson to load the bases. That decision almost turned nightmarish. Casey Vaughan put a major charge into the ball, but it died right at the left-field fence, scoring just Kimbrell from third. That made it 6-3.

“I have a feeling you’re going to see a lot of ours go like this,” Fitch said. “We’re going to have to fight and claw sometimes with all these young pups we have.”

Jacksonville tried to rally in the bottom of the seventh.

Eight-hole hitter David Williams caught Cabot by surprise when he bunted down the third baseline with two strikes. The throw probably wasn’t on time anyway, and went wild over Pattrson’s head, leaving Williams safe at second with no outs.

Derek St. Clair then singled to shallow right field on a 1-2 count to put runners on the corners, still with no outs. Pitching out of trouble, Vaughan, in for relief, fanned Burks and Reeves to bring up McClure. Fitch opted to walk McClure to load the bases, bringing the winning run to the plate.

Senior Jesse Harbin made good contact, but his ground ball went directly to shortstop Cole Thomas, who was playing up the middle, for an easy 6-4 fielder’s choice to end the game.

“They didn’t get anything really hard off of him,” Fitch said of Vaughan. “But it was good for him to face a little adversity and get out of it like he did. That’s valuable experience he can draw from later on.”

Because of expected rain, the tournament will finish on Wednesday instead of the scheduled Thursday. Jacksonville will take on Beebe at 3:30 at Dupree Park. Sylvan Hills will face Cabot at 4 p.m. at Mike Bromley Field in the Sherwood Sports Complex. The third-place game and title game will be played successively after the Jacksonville-Beebe game at Jacksonville’s Dupree Park. The title game will feature Little Rock Christian Academy, which beat Vilonia 8-7 on Monday, against Tuesday’s late winner between Little Rock Central and Greenbrier.

SPORTS >> Lady Panthers defeat Warriors at wire

Leader sportswriter

Not even a bizarre foul call after the final buzzer could dampen the celebration inside Panther Arena on Saturday afternoon as the hometown crowd boisterously celebrated their Cabot Lady Panthers reaching the 7A finals with a hard-fought 57-55 victory over Little Rock Hall. The win pits Cabot against Fort Smith Northside at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Hot Springs.

Fans had to wait a while for the final .01 seconds to tick off the clock as the officials sent Lady Warriors senior Jalisa Cole to the free-throw line for a foul by Cabot guard Jaylen Bridges after the buzzer sounded.

Cole hit the front end to change the final margin by one in a game that was close the entire way, and the celebration finally began.

Foul trouble added to the drama late as Cabot standout Melissa Wolff and teammate Elliot Taylor picked up their fourth personal fouls late in the third quarter, as did dominant 6-3 Hall post player Katelyn Webber, who eventually fouled out with 1:50 left to play and the Lady Warriors leading 50-49.

“It was very intense; the crowd was amazing,” Wolff said. “They were so loud – it was hard to hear everybody. We went back and forth the whole game, so we knew every stop and every score was important.”

Webber’s fifth personal foul sent Taylor to the line, and the junior guard got the lead back for the Lady Panthers (26-5) by hitting both ends to make it 51-50. Sydney Wacker then came up big for Cabot on the defensive side when the senior post player pulled down a rebound off a missed one-and-one free-throw attempt by Kanesha Woods. That led to a driving jumper by Wolff with 1:06 to go that put the Lady Panthers ahead 53-50.

Tyler Scaife got the Lady Warriors (23-6) back to within one with a pull-up jumper from 10 feet at the 47-second mark, but Cabot held the ball and forced a foul, sending Bridges to the line with 24seconds remaining in the game.

Bridges sank both shots to extend the lead back to three at 55-52, but Cole answered on the other end by making both ends of a one-and-one with 11 seconds left to play.

That essentially made it Cabot’s game to win or lose leading 55-54, and coach Carla Crowder put the ball in the hands of Wolff, the multiple time all-state player and future Arkansas Lady Razorback.

Wolff finally put the game away when she drew a foul after taking the inbound pass from Taylor and made both shots to set what appeared to be the final margin until the officials called Bridges for a foul after a missed desperation shot by Scaife from near half court at the horn.

Wolff picked up her fourth personal with 2:36 left to play in the third quarter to send Scaife to the line. Cabot led by its biggest margin at that point at 41-34, but Scaife made both shots and scored from the floor two more times before the end of the period with Wolff off the court to make it 41-40 Cabot.

Wolff came back in early in the fourth, but it was fellow senior Laci Boyett who energized the Lady Panthers with all eight of Cabot’s points in the first 4:30 of the final period.

“I always have to rely on my teammates,” Wolff said. “I had to know that they would help on the backside, and they did a great job. (Boyett) played awesome. We needed some points bad, and she stepped up and played her role. She can do that; she gets on fire.”

Boyett scored inside on an assist from Taylor with 4:26 remaining to give the Lady Panthers a 45-42 lead, and converted a traditional three-point play with another inside jumper and free throw to make it 48-45 with 3:29 left to play.

“She played great,” Crowder said of Boyett. “All season long, she’s really stepped up and turned it up when the game is on the line. She doesn’t mind taking it to the hole, and she doesn’t mind jumping up there and hopefully make free throws.”

Cabot showed respect for Hall’s talent by pressing seldom in the first half, but found themselves battling a tough press by the Lady Warriors through much of the first two quarters. Turnovers ended up a non issue with Cabot committing 12 to Hall’s 11, but the tough defensive play on both sides gave every score added importance.

“Usually, when we play the zone that we were playing, we don’t press out of that,” Crowder said. “Occasionally we do, but not a lot.”

Both teams improved their shot selection and percentage in the second half. Hall took a number of off-balance shots in the first half and ended up 7 of 29 for the half before a much stronger 8 of 13 in the second half to end up 15 of 42 for the game for 36 percent.

Cabot went 10 for 23 in the first half before scoring much of its second-half points from the free-throw line with just 6 of 13 from the floor for a total of 16 for 36 (44 percent).

Wolff and Boyett led the Lady Panthers with 13 points each while Bridges, Wacker and Taylor had eight points each. Taylor led rebounding with seven while Wolff and Wacker each had six. For Hall, Scaife led with a game-high 24 points and six rebounds while Webber added nine points and six rebounds.