Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

SPORTS >>Cabot girls win RAPA opener, fall to Central

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Lady Panthers opened the RAPA Roundball Rally with a big 74-45 win over host team Little Rock Hall on Tuesday, but stumbled in their semifinal game with 7A-Central Conference foe Little Rock Central Thursday night. The Lady Tigers overcame a field goal percentage of just under 18 percent to rally in the final moments and take a surprising 44-42 win and advance to Saturday’s finals against Morrilton, sending Cabot into the consolation finals for the second straight year with a Saturday afternoon game with Carlisle for third place.

A three-pointer by Lauren Walker put Cabot ahead 29-20 with 13:16 left in Thursday’s loss to Central, and gave Walker a dominant 17 points total for the game, but unfortunately for the Lady Panthers, they would be her last. Central’s defense sealed off the Lady Panthers’ primary threat for the remainder of the contest, and slowly worked itself back from what was at one time an unpromising 27-13 deficit mid-way through the first half.

Cabot opened the tournament solidly against Hall on Tuesday. Junior post Shelby Ashcraft used her tremendous size advantage to lead the Lady Panthers with 18 points in the game, while Walker used a strong transition game to generate 11 points.

Five of those points would come in the first three minutes of the game for Walker. She hit a three-point basket at the 14:28 mark to put Cabot up 5-2, and took an assist from Stephanie Glover in for a lay-up moments later after Glover came away with the steal on the inbounds pass by Hall.

The Lady Panthers extended their lead with baskets by Leah Watts and Rachel Glover, but it was five consecutive points for Ashcraft starting at the 4:19 mark that began to give the game a skunk-like odor, moving the Lady Panthers from a 27-14 lead to a 34-14 advantage with 20 minutes of basketball still left to play.

A major early setback would occur in the opening moments of the second half, when senior Jena Self went down on her ankle during a scramble for a loose ball. The significance of Self’s injury was clear right away, as she winched in pain in front of the scorer’s table, which brought the crowd on hand to virtual silence. She would be carted away by stretcher before the end of the game to a round of applause, but the significance of Self’s absence on the court would not be completely felt until the Thursday matchup with Central.

Walker looked poised to dominate the entire game Thursday night against Central. The 5’11” forward started the game full throttle, scoring on the first Cabot possession with a basket and foul before making three straight goals mid-way through the opening half to put the Lady Panthers ahead 15-6. She would also nail a three-point basket at the 5:24 mark to give Cabot a 19-12 lead.

The action got increasingly physical throughout the game. An Ashcraft block on a shot by Central’s Shanice Hayes at the 4:34 mark resulted in a loose-ball scramble that ended up with nearly every player on each squad on the floor at some point during the play, and would send Watts to the free throw line for two shots by the time the officials blew the bizarre play dead. Watts hit both ends, giving the Lady Panthers a 22-12 lead.

Most of the scoring action in the game occurred at the free throw line, with Central cashing in with a pair of foul shots in the final minute before Jr. guard Breanna Barnes nailed a three-point basket with 14 seconds left to cut Cabot’s lead to 25-20 at the intermission.

The big play by Barnes would be a sign of things to come in the second half. The Lady Tigers cut into Cabot’s lead more and more during the final 16 minutes, and would finally catch the Lady Panthers with 59 seconds left in the game on an inside basket by senior Martina Duhart that tied the game at 42-42. Cabot could not convert in the final minute, and Barnes saved the day with a driving shot in the paint in the final two seconds to give Central the win.

The RAPA action today will begin with host team Little Rock Hall against North Little Rock in the seventh-place game at 3 p.m., followed by the Cabot-Carlisle game at 4:30 p.m. to determine third place. Lonoke will take on Parkview at 6 p.m. in the fifth-place game before the championship game between Central and Morrilton at 7:30 p.m.