Leader Blues

Friday, February 08, 2008

SPORTS >> Cabot boys inch closer

Leader sports editor

The corks haven’t popped yet, but the foil is definitely being peeled away.

The Cabot Panthers all but assured themselves of their first state playoff appearance in 31 years with a come-from-behind 58-56 win over North Little Rock on Wednesday night at the Panther Pavilion.

The victory was the Panthers’ fifth in their past six games after they limped out of the gates at 0-3 in 7A-Central play, and gave them a half-game lead over North Little Rock for third place. Russellville would have to win out and Cabot would have to lose its final four regular season games to miss the state tournament. Cabot’s most recent state tournament appearance was in 1977.

“That was a big win,” said Cabot head coach Jerry Bridges. “That puts us a step closer to one of our main goals, which is to get in the state tournament.”

The Panthers got big games out of Austin Johnson, Miles Monroe and Adam Sterrenberg, as well as three critical plays from reserve Tim Lawrence in climbing back into a game they trailed by as many as nine in the first half. Cabot preserved the win by knocking down 9-of-10 free throws over the final 1:22 of the contest.

“Last year, we lost games like this,” Bridges said. “Maybe that was just youth and inexperience. Maybe we’ve grown up a little and are handling that better. I know one thing: It’s harder on the coach.”

Other than a 4-2 lead in the early going, Cabot trailed until Sterrenberg’s strong post basket to open the final period put Cabot on top, 41-40. Though a North Little Rock rebound basket briefly allowed the Charging Wildcats to reclaim the lead, Monroe’s three-pointer at the 5:30 mark put the Panthers ahead for good, though the outcome wasn’t assured until
Sterrenberg made two free throws with 8.5 seconds remaining.

Monroe’s two free throws with 16 seconds left had put Cabot up by five and appeared to have sealed it. But Tray Allison was fouled on a three-point attempt and made all three charities to draw NLR to within 56-54 with 9.9 seconds.

Lawrence, who had made two critical plays in the first half, added a third with 21 seconds left and Cabot leading by just three points. Monroe missed the second of two free throws, and Lawrence ducked underneath to claim the offensive rebound.

“Tim’s going to give you everything he’s got,” Bridges said. “Kids and parents sometimes get caught up in playing time.

“But I try to tell the kids not to get caught up in all that. The main thing is, when you’re out there, make a difference. Tim Lawrence does that.”

It was a replica of the play Lawrence made late in the first half with the Panthers trailing by nine points and reeling. Lawrence claimed an offensive rebound, again off a missed free throw by Monroe.

This time, he dished to Johnson for a three-pointer that pulled Cabot to within six at halftime.

Lawrence also hit a buzzer-beating three at the end of the third period that sent the Panthers into the final period trailing only 40-39.

The win was the second straight narrow victory for the Panthers. Derek Clarkson hit a three pointer in the final minute to beat Catholic last Friday.

While the Panthers would not go away in this one early, they also could never close the gap against a North Little Rock squad that kept matching them bucket for bucket.

Five blocked shots in the first period by 6-7 Wildcat post man Melvin Fisher had Cabot daunted offensively, and the Panthers trailed 9-6 after one quarter. Though the Panthers began to get something going on the offensive end behind seven second-quarter points by Johnson, the Wildcats used dribble penetration to keep pace.

In the third quarter, it was more of the same. Monroe hit a 12-footer in the lane and got a tip-in, but Allison hit a pair of threes and Fisher got inside for a pair of baskets and Cabot still trailed 37-30 at the 2:45 mark.
The Panthers’ 9-3 run to close out the period had them within a point heading into the final quarter.

“Maybe it was a little pride,” Bridges said of his team’s resilience. “I wasn’t too happy at halftime, and I think I got that point across to them. We just weren’t clicking very well. But we kept plugging and that’s the main thing.”
Sterrenberg scored 14 of his 19 points after halftime to lead Cabot.

He also dished out three assists. Monroe added 16 points, four rebounds, three blocks and four assists, while Johnson scored 14 points and grabbed six boards. Sam Bates added four points and nine rebounds.

Cabot made 11-of-17 shots after intermission and 18-of-22 free throws overall. The Panthers also dominated the glass in the second half, enjoying a 16-8 advantage.

North Little Rock (5-4 in league play) made only 12-of-22 from the line and 20-of-44 from the field. The Wildcats were led by Allison’s 14 points.