Tuesday, February 28, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot enters playoffs on first losing streak

Leader sports editor

Wednesday marks the day the Cabot Panthers begin defense of their Class 7A state championship. The Panthers open this year’s tournament in Van Buren as the No. 4 seed from the 7A-Central. They will take on 7A-West five seed Rogers Heritage in the first round, but they come into the tournament with back-to-back losses, and having lost three of their last four games.

That’s not, however, something Cabot coach Jerry Bridges says is going to hinder his squad as they enter postseason play.

“We’ve had a tough ride the last two weeks, but we’ve played some tough teams,” said Bridges. “You never want to lose or lose two in a row, and this is our first streak this season. But we haven’t played any slouch teams either. This 7A Central is a tough league to be in.”

Cabot lost at Fort Smith Northside last Tuesday in a game starting point guard BobbyJoe Duncan did not play. He sat out that game with a wrist fracture. He played against North Little Rock, but was not 100 percent, and was taken out of that 64-51 loss with six minutes remaining.

“There’s pain involved with that wrist,” Bridges said of Duncan. “He’s not 100 percent and he’s not going to be 100 percent. But he’s our little General out there and he takes pride in that roll. Him at about 85 percent is pretty good for us. He’s tough, man. He’s just tough.”

In Friday’s regular-season finale, the Panthers trailed at halftime by more than it has anyone all season, 37-24, to North Little Rock. They rallied in the second half and got the margin to as little as seven, but couldn’t get any closer.

With Cabot unable to break the eight-point barrier in the fourth quarter, Bridges took Duncan out as a precaution.

“We weren’t cutting it (the lead) any further and I just made that decision,” Bridges said. “You got to give North Little Rock credit. They’re better than us right now, but I think we’ve shown the ability to play with the best teams in 7A, and beat the best teams in 7A. We just have to be playing well at the right time, and the time is here.”

Rogers Heritage brings a 15-13 overall mark into the Wednesday’s 8:30 tip-off. The War Eagles finished 7-7 in the 7A-West and have also lost their last two games, to 7A-West co-champions Bentonville and Springdale Har-Ber.

“They have a big boy inside that’s a very strong player,” Bridges said of Heritage’s Seth Stanley. “The point guard (Ty Olsen) is a good player, coach’s son. There are good shooters around him. Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you they’re athletic like the teams we’ve played in this conference. They’re not that. But they execute and make you work. They’re good at what they do and we need to come out and get control of this game early. It’s state tournament. You can’t take anybody for granted.”

Getting early control is not just important for the formula to beat Heritage. Bridges thinks it could be key in later rounds as well.

“We really need to keep fresh legged,” Bridges said. “Because in a perfect world we have three games to play. It’s a one-game season right now, and I’m just glad we don’t have to play anybody in the 7A-Central.”

A win on Wednesday would set up a rematch of last year’s state championship game. Bentonville lost the tiebreaker with Har-Ber and is the No. 2 seed from the 7A-West. That quarterfinal game is set to tip of at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.


The Lady Panthers earned a five seed and their first-round game is against West four seed Springdale (14-14). The two teams have met once earlier this season at SHS. Cabot beat the Lady Bulldogs 51-48 on Dec. 1.

The winner of that game plays 7A-Central champion North Little Rock at 4 p.m. Thursday. The Charging Lady Wildcats beat Cabot 54-39 last Friday in the regular-season finale.