Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

SPORTS >> Cabot boys nipped by Central, but reach state

Leader sports editor

Cabot coach Jerry Bridges can find several good things to take out of the Panthers’ tough 67-66 loss to Little Rock Central on Friday night.

A moral victory is not among them.

“We knew coming in we could play with anybody,” Bridges said. “We just have to regroup. It would have been a big win for us.”
A big win for a lot of reasons. It would have meant a season sweep of the state’s second-ranked 7A team. It would more importantly have moved the Panthers to within a game of the first-place Tigers, and into a third-place tie with Conway.

But, even with the disheartening loss, the Panthers secured their first state tournament berth in 31 years when Russellville lost on Friday. That’s one good thing. The other is that junior Austin Johnson turned in perhaps his best game of the season.

“That’s big for us,” Bridges said of Johnson’s 24-point performance. “He was hurt earlier in the year and he’s just now getting back to 100 percent. He’s shown a lot ofguts and courage for us this year.”

The Panthers lost, despite Johnson’s performance, and despite 29 more points from Adam Sterrenberg, when Erick Brooks hit a pair of free throws with 11.2 seconds left. Cabot never got a chance at a game-winning basket as Central’s Alandis Harris stole a cross-court pass at midcourt and was able to run out the clock.

“It was a tremendous game. That was the first time we had employed that defense all year,” said Central head coach Oliver Fitzpatrick of the zone press the Tigers ran on the final play. “We were saving that just for a situation like this. [Cabot] wasn’t prepared for it.”

The Panthers had rallied from a seven-point deficit over the final three minutes. Miles Monroe’s three and Sterrenberg’s baseline drive got Cabot to within 65-64 with 2:01 left. Brooks missed a breakaway layup with 35 seconds, and Johnson gave the Panthers the lead with a baseline drive and an up-and-under basket with 20 seconds remaining.

But Brooks was fouled near the top of the circle with 11 seconds left and made them both. Brooks led Central with 23 points.
Cabot did itself no favors by missing 8-of-11 free throws in the second half.

“Bottom line, we missed free throws,” Bridges said. “You’ve got to hit those. If we make our free throws, we win.”

Bridges wasn’t so certain the Panthers didn’t deserve a few more attempts than they got. Twice over the final four minutes of the game, Sterrenberg was stripped of the ball driving into traffic near the basket.

“They didn’t really protect Sterrenberg,” Bridges said. “There were some no-calls [that looked like] fouls. I mean, you’ve got to give those calls to a player like that. He’s earned them.”

With Monroe in foul trouble early in the game, the Panthers turned to Sterrenberg and Johnson, and they delivered, combing for all but one of Cabot’s first half points. The Panthers led 34-33 at intermission.

It was tough going offensively in the early going. Sterrenberg hit a pair of threes over the final two minutes of the first period, which had Cabot trailing 16-13 after one. Johnson scored nine consecutive points for Cabot over a span of 2:43 in the second quarter as the Panthers took their first lead at 23-20.

Sterrenberg scored the final nine points of the period for the Panthers to finish with 19 points at intermission. Brooks also had 19 at the half.

Monroe added six points in limited action.

“If you want to talk about foul trouble, we were in foul trouble,” Bridges said. “Monroe might have played 10 minutes tonight.”
Sam Bates added four points and nine rebounds as the Panthers finished with a six-rebound advantage over a Central team that went to a small lineup for most of the game.

The Panthers made 8-of-20 three-pointers and knocked down 24-of-52 overall, but they made only 10-of-19 free throws.
Central hit 25-of-45 shots overall, despite making only 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. They got several key breakaway buckets in the final period, which allowed them to build a 65-58 lead at the 3:02 mark. The Tigers made 15-of-24 free throws.


Add another to the Lady Panthers’ ever-expanding disabled list.
Shelby Ashcraft went down midway through the final period.

That merely added an injury to insult as Central was already having its way with the Lady Panthers.

Coming off an emotional one-point, buzzer-beating loss to North Little Rock two nights earlier, the Lady Panthers seemed strangely flat, especially in the second half, when they were outrebounded 24-8 to finish with an overall 38-25 disadvantage on the boards.

That wasn’t the end of their troubles against the Lady Tigers. Cabot committed 21 turnovers and made only 13-of-38 shots in falling into a three-way tie for third at 6-5.

“That’s eight or nine kids now,” said Cabot assistant Charles Ruple of the plague of injuries that have hobbled the Lady Panthers this season. “Nobody likes to make excuses, but we’re playing six or seven, and they’re playing eight or 10. That makes a difference.”

Cabot never led in the contest, falling behind 4-0 and 19-13 after one period. The Lady Tigers were able to get penetration throughout the first half for easy buckets and fouls.

Cabot got within one point on three free throws by Morgan Verkler, but Shawnessi Arnold hit a 40-footer at the buzzer to give

Central a 31-27 lead at intermission.

Ashcraft scored twice inside early in the third to keep the Lady Panthers within 33-31, and Jenna Bailey’s basket and free throw still had them within three. But the Lady Tigers out-rebounded Cabot 12-2 in the third period and eventually opened up a 44-36 lead after three. Cabot never got closer than eight the rest of the way.

Ashcraft suffered the injury when she drove under the basket for a reverse layup attempt with 3:51 left in the game. She hit the floor and was carted off in a wheelchair several minutes later. Ashcraft scored only six points, but grabbed 10 rebounds and two steals. She also had three assists and a block.

Lauren Walker led Cabot with 12 points. Leah Watts had 11 points and three steals. Bailey added eight points and four steals.