Leader Blues

Monday, November 19, 2007

SPORTS >>Panthers sweep Eagles in two exciting endings

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Time was on the Panthers side Tuesday night in Vilonia, but just barely. Cabot made up a seven-point deficit in the final quarter to overtake the Eagles in the final minute before a put-back basket for Vilonia just after the final buzzer was disallowed, giving the Panthers a 44-42 win. The Lady Panthers also had to sweat out a close one in the final moments to take a 48-46 win in the opening game of the night.

The Panthers got their first lead of the game mid-way through the third quarter, when a jumper by junior guard Adam Sterrenberg lifted Cabot to a 29-28 advantage. Vilonia rallied quickly, scoring the final six points of the period to take a 34-29 lead heading into the final frame.

“I’m proud of my kids for fighting back,” Bridges said. “Both teams played really strong. Vilonia is a scrappy team, and they are very well coached. We felt like we were a little bit lucky to come away with the win, but sometimes you have to have a little luck on your side in basketball.”

The call at the end was very unpopular with the Vilonia crowd, which thought the shot should have been counted to send the game into overtime. The officials, who had sampled several plates of home cooking throughout both contests, seemed on top of the last call despite inconsistencies throughout the night. As for the head Panther, he took the fifth in so many words.

“That last put-back, I couldn’t tell if it was good or not looking at it on film,” Bridges said. “It was close. There wasn’t a light on the backboard, and that makes it even tougher to tell in situations like that. I do know that both teams played really hard, and it was a tough game to get through.”

The Panthers got in trouble early, as Vilonia rushed out to a 20-8 lead by the 3:36 mark of the first half. Cabot was in dire need of someone to step up offensively, and Jack Bridges filled that role with a pair of late three pointers, including one right before the buzzer that pulled the Panthers to within four points at 22-18.

The third quarter ended up fairly evenly matched, save for the final 1:27 of play. Sterrenberg, who was held to only one basket and a pair of free throws in the first half, finally found a lane worth using in the third quarter. Entering the paint from the left side, Sterrenberg had back-to-back goals to put Cabot in the lead for the first time all night. Vilonia answered with a basket by Clayton Clements, and Jordan Riley closed out the quarter for the Eagles with four unanswered points before the end of the period.

It was defense that would make the biggest difference for the Panthers down the stretch. Matt Ball hit a pair of free throws with 4:42 left that put the Eagles ahead 42-35, but that would be the end of the road for Vilonia’s offense. Cabot increased the pressure dramatically at that point, and the move would pay off with four late-game steals by Sterrenberg and forward Austin Johnson. Sterrenberg got the first steal that led to a point off a free throw, and Johnson’s pick with 1:53 remaining resulted in a put-back shot, also by Johnson, that pulled the Panthers to within two.

Johnson’s next steal came on the next trip down by Vilonia. He quickly got the ball out to Sterrenberg, who put the shot in to tie the game with 1:01 remaining. The Eagles went down court with the intention of holding for the final shot, but Sterrenberg had other plans. He stripped the ball for VHS guard Riley, and took the ball down court for a lay up. Instead entering from the side for a safe shot, Sterrenberg tried to dazzle with a lay up from the paint. The shot was unsuccessful, but he drew the foul fighting for the rebound, and hit both free throws to put the Panthers up 44-42 with only nine seconds left.

The Eagles put the ball in the hands of their best shooter in Ball for the final play, but his jumper was slightly off. Cody Wood got the rebound for Vilonia and quickly tried for the put-back, but the buzzer sounded before the shot left his hands.

Sterrenberg led the Panthers with 16 points. Bridges added 12 points off four three-point shots for Cabot. For Vilonia, Riley led with 14 points. The win gives the Panthers a 1-0 record. Cabot will not play again until the Bank Classic when they take on Vilonia once again in the first round on November 27.

The Lady Panthers led for most of the first half of the opening game, but fell behind by five points until the third quarter buzzer, when a three pointer by senior point guard Leah Watts pulled Cabot back to within two for the final eight minutes.

Watt’s shot pulled the motivation to the Lady Panthers’ side, as they were able to outlast three timeouts by Vilonia in the final 3.7 seconds of play to hold on for the win. Watts led the Lady Panthers with 11 points, with 10 points from junior post Shelby Ashcraft and nine for forward Lauren Walker. The win gave Cabot a 2-2 record. The Lady Panthers will host Pulaski Academy on November 27.