SPORTS>>Panthers storm back twice to stun No. 2 Catholic
They took it as far down to the wire as humanly possible, but the Cabot Panthers managed to pull out two huge wins over Little Rock Catholic on Monday night.
The 11-5 and 9-8 decisions for the Panthers over the second-ranked Class 7A Rockets not only guarantees them a spot in the state playoffs starting this Friday, it keeps head coach Jay Fitch’s streak of non-losing seasons intact after nine years at Cabot.
A win over Central last night, and a Conway win over Pine Bluff will give the Panthers a No. 5 seed, but the doubleheader wins over Catholic guarantees Cabot at least a No. 6 seed, regardless of how Tuesday’s action played out.
Cabot (13-11 overall, 5-8 league) had to rally in both games after giving up early leads to the Rockets, but two of the best pitching performances of the season for the Panthers from a pair of sophomores held Catholic scoreless in the final three innings of both games.
“These were really big wins for us,” Fitch said. “It’s been an up-and-down year for us. We had some rough games early [in conference play], but hopefully, we’re peaking at the right time. We have played well for the last few weeks.
“It would have been easy to get down like we did and say, OK, it’s the second- or third-ranked team in thestate, and given up, but give these kids credit, they never folded.”
Tyler Erickson improved his record to 2-1 with the complete-game win in Game 1. Erickson gave up three runs in the second inning when a single into center by the Rockets scored two, and a sacrifice fly made it 4-0.
After that, it was mostly smooth sailing for the young hurler, as he gave up only one more run in the fourth inning.
The Panthers faced a 4-0 deficit heading into the third inning, but a walk to Jeremy Wilson and a single by Jackson Chism began a Cabot rally. Drew Burks followed with a three-run homer to bring the Panthers to within 4-3.
Singles by Chad Bryant, Wilson Matt Evans to start out the fourth, and a double by Chism scored two runs, and a run-scoring single by Burks scored another to put the Panthers up 6-3.
Cabot held onto its narrow lead until the sixth inning, when a three-run home run by Sam Bates gave the Panthers a cushion.
The Panthers put up two more runs in the top of the seventh inning for good measure to earn Erickson the win.
It took a trio of Panther pitchers to down the Catholic in the nightcap. Sophomore Matt Evans had a solid night on the mound until the top of the fourth, when the Rocket bats picked up steam. Senior Josh Brown came in to try and ease the Catholic rally, but a seven-run spree for the Rockets against Evans and Brown forced Cabot to go with yet another sophomore in C.J. Jacoby.
The southpaw proved up to task, earning his first varsity win with three innings of shutout baseball.
“I’m so proud of him,” Fitch said. “C.J. is one of those guys who works his tail off to get better. He’s done a great job for us during JV games this year, but to come in and get your first varsity win under those circumstances, that’s big.”
After Catholic’s big inning, Cabot answered with five runs of its own to stay within a run, and a two-strike home run by Turner in the top of the fifth tied the game at 8-8.
The winning run scored in the top of the sixth when Burgan beat out an infield hit to drive in Burks.