Leader Blues

Monday, December 10, 2007

SPORTS >>Cabot hands Lions second loss in three days Tuesday

Leader sportswriter

The instant rematch wouldn’t be nearly as close.

The Panthers put together four quarters of solid basketball on their way to a 59-35 win over the Searcy Lions Tuesday night at the Cabot High School gymnasium. The two teams had played to the final buzzer just three days prior, but Cabot relied on inside domination of the boards, along with a bruising assault on both sides of the court by senior post Sam Bates in the final five minutes of the first half to make the second round much less dramatic.

“I thought we really got in gear there during the second half,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “We got them down, and we kept them down. That’s something we didn’t do a week ago.” Bridges was also pleased with the performance from his big senior during the runaway second quarter.

“He’s done that in other games here before,” Bridges said. “He has the capability. Sam is one of those guys that always brings a lot of energy into his performance. I thought he played a lot better defense than he has in a while tonight as well.”

The Panthers served instant notice that this would not be a repeat of their first matchup, rushing out to a 10-0 lead by the 5:11 mark of the first quarter. Bates and junior Adam Sterrenberg set the tone for Searcy’s long night, with an opening basket by Bates, followed by eight straight by Sterrenberg. Three long-distance rim rattlers by Sterrenberg, two of which were three pointers, put Cabot out by 10, and both would put in another basket after a Searcy timeout to extend the lead to 14-2 before a three-point basket by Aaron Coleman put the Lions briefly back into a single-digit deficit at 14-5.

Sterrenberg’s early hot hand cooled somewhat, but Austin Johnson kept the momentum of the outside game for the Panthers alive with a three pointer from beyond the top of the key at the 2:37 mark to put Cabot up 17-8, and hit a free throw moments later to increase the lead back to 10.

Searcy made its only major run of the night in the final two minutes of the first quarter. The Lions held momentum through the break between quarters, and quickly shrunk the Panthers’ lead with some impressive moves to the basket by junior forward Jordan Evans. Evans put his first points of the night on the board with an inside shot at the 1:41 mark of the first quarter, and made two unanswered baskets at the start of the first quarter to pull the Lions to within two at 18-16.

The opportunity to tie didn’t last long for Searcy. A three pointer by junior Jack Bridges put Cabot up by five, but the Lions answered in part with a pair of free throws by Coleman at the 5:57 mark to close the lead to 21-18 for the Panthers.

That’s when big 33 took over for Cabot. Bates drove inside for a shot and foul with 5:18 left in the first half, and followed that by getting his own rebound off a miss on the next trip after a Searcy turnover for a put-back shot. Sterrenberg took a shot from behind the arc that was just off on the following possession, but Bates was there once again for the board and second chance score. He capped off his eight-point frenzy in style, with a clean pick of Nathan Williams that he took coast to coach for the layup with 3:18 remaining in the half to put the Panthers ahead 29-18.

Another three-pointer for Bridges just before the buzzer gave the Panthers a 34-20 lead at halftime, and put a finishing touch on a first half that saw Cabot outshoot Searcy 66 percent to 40 percent, a margin that would only grow more in the second half, along with the Panthers’ lead.

Sterrenberg led all scorers with 22 points for Cabot, while Bates added 16 points and 10 rebounds, nine of which were offensive. Bridges and Johnson each added six points for the Panthers. For Searcy, Evans led with 15 points.

Cabot improves to 5-2 on the year, and will play at Beebe next Friday after taking part in the Ortho/Arkansas Invitational tournament over the weekend at CAC. The Lions fell to 2-5 on the year with the loss, and will host Beebe on Tuesday.

The Searcy Lady Lions made the night a split with a rather easy 50-40 win over the Lady Panthers in the opener Tuesday night. The speed and ball-handling prowess of Searcy junior Shantel Neely proved to be a tough pair of obstacles for the Lady Panthers to overcome.

That, along with a struggling shooting performance for Cabot allowed the Lady Lions to blaze through a 20-point first quarter, and overcome a sluggish quarter of their own in the first four minutes of the second frame.

The Panthers needed more outside offense from their senior combo of Leah Watts and Lauren Walker, but the real story would be the domination in the paint by senior Searcy post Taylor Clark, with second half help from sophomore standouts Lauren Harrison and Kristen Celsor.

“That’s something we’ve really tried to address during the last couple of practices,” Lady Lions coach Michelle Birdsong said. “We did really well for the first couple of games, and then we were just terrible on the boards after that. It took us a little while to get situated in the second quarter when they stepped up their defense, but I thought we did a nice job in the paint all night.”

Neely led the Lady Lions in scoring with 15 points and six rebounds, with nine points and nine rebounds by Clark. Celsor finished with eight points, and Harrison added seven. For Cabot, junior post Shelby Ashcraft led in scoring with 11 points, with 10 points from Walker.

The Lady Lions improved to 9-1 on the season with the win, and will host Lake Hamilton next Friday. The Lady Panthers fell to 3-3 on the year, and will take part in the Lady Chiefs Invitational tournament this weekend at Kickapoo High School in Springfield, Mo.