Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

SPORTS >> Cabot senior going out a winner

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Sam Bates may not claim history as his favorite topic in school.

But the Cabot senior is about to become part of it later this month when Cabot takes to the court in the state playoffs for the first time since 1977.

It is a long time coming for a school noted for football excellence, and retribution for Bates and his fellow seniors, who have endured the typical message-board insults and the general lack of respect extended to Cabot basketball in recent years.
Bates, who turns 18 in just two days, is a starting post player for Jerry Bridges’ Panthers.

But it is baseball he will build his athletic future around. He has one more season under coach Jay Fitch on the Panthers baseball team, before he makes the move to Neosho, Mo., in the fall to play baseball for the Crowder Jr. College Rough Riders.
The son of Jennifer and Sammy Bates currently holds a 3.5 GPA, and plans on majoring in business/finance at CJC.

The 31-year drought for Cabot basketball officially ended last Friday when Russellville lost, ensuring the Panthers of at least a No. 6 seed when the state 7A state tournament begins Feb. 26. Cabot could reach as high as a No. 2 seed, depending on how the final two weeks of the regular season play out.

While Bates may not be putting up the eye-popping numbers of junior teammate Adam Sterrenberg, he still gets plenty of credit from his coach for Cabot’s success this season.

“Sam is a great teammate for these kids to have,” Bridges said. “He’s very likeable, never has a bad word to say about anyone, and he works very hard. Last year, he showed flashes of brilliance, but this year, he has been nothing but consistent. Every time I send him out on that floor, I know I’m going to get anywhere from eight to ten rebounds a night from him.”

For Bates, being a part of the team that has finally ended the state playoff drought is a culmination of lots of hard work and determination.

“It’s been three years in the making,” Bates said. “The coaches have told us that we’re good enough all along. It just took us making up our minds to do it. We finally got over the hump this year.

“We had a really good team during my sophomore year, but we were in such a tough conference [what is now the 6A-East], we just weren’t fortunate enough.”

Coach Jay Fitch is happy for Bates and for the basketball team’s success this season, but admits that he is ready to see him in the pinstripes.

“Sam has been a great one for me,” Fitch said. “In 11 years of coaching at Cabot, I’ve only had three kids start for me as freshmen, and he is one of them. He’s done so well at both sports all these years, it’s kind of scary to think what he can accomplish when he focuses all of his fundamentals into one sport.”

Bates finished the 2007 season with a .349 batting average. He has already been picked by his teammates to serve as a team captain this season, along with fellow senior and friend Shayne Burgan.

“Sam is not going to be a big vocal leader,” Fitch said. “But he has that Cal Ripken-effect. He’s not going to miss a single day, which is just as valuable an attribute. I’m expecting a big year from him — potential All-State numbers.”

Bates, a two-time All-Conference selection for baseball, says he has learned many valuable lessons about competition and life from both Fitch and Bridges.

“It’s not all that different, really,” Bates said of his two coaches. “Both are good, Christian men, and both of them are good role models to build upon for a student-athlete like me. Both of them stress the importance of hard work, and are just good guys in general.”

Among the many games played by Bates on both the court and diamond, he lists last year’s baseball 7A-Central Conference closer with Central as his most memorable moment. The Tigers had won the previous meeting, and went for a season sweep when they put current University of Arkansas freshman Drew Smiley on the mound. The Panthers went on to score in the final inning to take a 2-1 win over Central, which locked them into the No. 2 seed for the state tournament.

Thrilled as Bates is to have extended his baseball career beyond high school, he’s in no rush to play at the next level and intends to relish his last season at Cabot.

“You only get one senior year of high school,” Bates said. “Just like finding out we clinched the playoffs this year; that’s at least one more basketball game I will get to play. I’m trying to make the most of this year. You can’t waste your life away waiting on something else.

“You have to enjoy it while it’s here.”