Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

SPORTS >>Conway holds off Cabot rally

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers whittled 17 points off a 22-point deficit over a six-minute span against Conway on Saturday night.

But as big as their heart was in the Class 7A state semifinals at Conway High School, the hole they dug themselves through the first two-and-a-half quarters proved just a little bigger. The Wampus Cats ended the Panthers’ magical run with a 67-57 win.

Conway moves on to the championship game Saturday, when they will take on Little Rock Catholic at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. The Panthers end the season 20-11.

“The kids have got a lot of heart and pride,” said Cabot head coach Jerry Bridges. “Down 22, we could have quit. We got it down to five, but we expended so much energy.

“Give Conway credit. But give my boys credit, too. Five years ago, people would have never said Cabot would be in the final four.”

Adam Sterrenberg took over in the second half to nearly single-handedly bring Cabot back from what seemed certain extinction after Conway took a 45-23 lead two-and-a-half minutes into the third period.

That’s when Sterrenberg, who turned in his second consecutive 30-point performance, knocked down the first of his six second-half three-pointers to begin Cabot’s 22-5 run over the next 5:56.

“Adam Sterrenberg is an outstandingplayer, one of the best in our conference,” said Conway coach James Bates. “Our intensity level dropped a little when they made some shots. We knew they wouldn’t quit. Coach Bridges has really got them going over there.”

The Panther press began to pay dividends, though Conway broke it twice for fast break buckets in the quarter. But with Sterrenberg adding three-pointers at the 2:50 mark, and again with 20 seconds left, and at the buzzer, the Panthers clawed back into it, trailing only 50-43 entering the final period.

Sterrenberg’s end-to-end drive after a long defensive rebound cut the lead to 50-45 with 7:16 left in the game.

But Conway had its own star on Saturday in the form of 6-8 post man Terry Tidwell, who dominated on the blocks throughout, and especially in the fourth quarter when the Wampus Cats needed him most. Tidwell finished with 21 points — 10 in the final period — and grabbed 12 rebounds, six on the offensive end.

“He’s played well against Cabot all three ballgames,” Bates said. “We wanted to exploit that. We played as close to perfect as we could in the first half. We got away from that in the second half and then we went back to Terry. You see what he’s capable of.

“[Cabot’s Miles] Monroe got in some foul trouble and so did [Sam] Bates. It seemed like whoever they put on [Tidwell], he was able to make plays down there.”

Bridges agreed that that turned out to be the key to the game.

“We didn’t get our low post established, and they did,” Bridges said. “And whoever can establish that low post first is usually going to control the game.”

Tidwell’s putback of his own miss at the 6:25 mark opened the lead to nine, and Cabot’s own post player, Miles Monroe, fouled out less than a minute later battling Tidwell for a rebound.

Cabot’s final run came after Sterrenberg got a steal in backcourt and was fouled. He had a chance to narrow the margin to four, but missed one of two free throws and Conway held on to a 55-50 lead with 5:00 remaining.

Tidwell pretty much took it on himself at that point, scoring inside, fouling out Sam Bates with 3:04 left, then adding two free throws and a reverse lay-up to put Conway up 61-50 with 2:40 left.

Sterrenberg hit two more three-pointers to get Cabot to within 64-57 with 1:03 left. He got a steal and drove with a chance to cut it back to five, but both of his shots were blocked, and Conway hit 3-of-4 free throws to set the final margin.

Cabot got off to a good start in the contest, and led 10-7 on Austin Johnson’s lay-up with 2:50 left in the first quarter. But Conway’s aggressive man defense slowed down the Panthers for most of the rest of the first half. Meanwhile, the Wampus Cats’ offense began to click, beginning with consecutive three-pointers by Austin Mitchell that gave Conway the lead for good late in the first period.

Conway outscored Cabot 29-11 over the final 10:50 of the first half.

The Wampus Cats dominated on the boards, finishing with a 40-24 advantage.

“We’re going to get into the weight room and put 15-20 pounds of muscle on these guys,” Bridges said. “I think that was a problem tonight. They were stronger physically than us in the post.”

That also allowed the Cats to get to the line much more than the Panthers. Though Cabot made 13-of-15, Conway knocked down 20-of-29.

In addition to Sterrenberg’s 30, Bates added nine, while Derek Clarkson, Monroe and Johnson each chipped in six.

“[Sterrenberg] is special,” Bridges said. “Nobody knows how hard he works to get where he is right now. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to coach him. He’s wowed me a lot the past few years, and I’m glad I’ve got him one more year.”

As for next season, a good nucleus returns. The Panthers lose Bates, Clarkson, Tim Lawrence and Trey Rosel, but return Johnson, Sterrenberg, Monroe and Jack Bridges among players who saw significant action this season.

“This season was fun,” Bridges said. “I probably should have my head examined about why I got back into coaching. But after this week here, that’s why. It was fun and, hopefully, next year, we’ll take it a step further.”