SPORTS>>One-man wrecking crew
Leader sports writer
With one of the best point guards in the state able to control just about every Russellville possession, Cabot’s six- and eight-point deficits in the second half seemed a whole lot deeper on Friday night, while each of its own possessions seemed a whole lot more precious.
Fortunately, for the Panthers, Adam Sterrenberg turned desperation into gold, scoring 22 points over the final four minutes and 55 seconds of the game to lift Cabot to a much-needed 60-54 win at Panther Pavilion.
With first-place Con-way coming in (last night) and with the Panthers tied with the Cylcones at 3-2 entering the game, the importance of the win was not lost on head coach Jerry Bridges.
“It would have been a very tough loss with what lies ahead,” said Bridges, whose team improved to 14-5 overall, 4-2 in 7A-Central play. “We were very fortunate. We had every reason to lose that game and we found a way to win. Adam did what he’s capable of doing, but heck, all of kids did their jobs, too. We worked hard defensively to get back in it.”
In fact, the Panthers forced 12 second-half turnovers against a team that boasts one of the top point guards in A.J. Broadnax, who scored 18 points, including making 9 of 10 free throws in the second half to keep Cabot on the uphill climb almost the entire way.
Cabot trailed by nine points with 5:55 left in the contest when it began to make its move. Austin Johnson hit a three and 50 seconds later, Sterrenberg began his one-man Russellville wrecking party with a three to cut the lead to 42-39 at the 4:55 mark.
But Johnson’s quick miss of a three led to a fast-break bucket on the other end and the Cylcones were still in control at 47-39 with less than four minutes remaining.
Sterrenberg scored on a baseline reverse and Johnson hit one of two free throws. While Broadnax was making 5 of 6 free throws over the next 53 seconds, Sterrenberg hit a step-back three and a well-guarded pull-up three. He added a pair of free throws with 1:42 left to narrow the Cyclone lead all the way to a single point.
Broadnax finally missed a free throw and Sterrenberg gave Cabot its first lead of the second half with yet another pull-up three and the Panthers went on top 53-52 with a minute-and-a-half remaining.
Thirteen seconds later, Sterrenberg stepped in front of a pass on the sideline, got the steal and the foul and made two free throws, fouling out Broadnax in the process and extending the Cabot lead to 55-52. After Russellville scored in the lane, Sterrenberg made two more at the stripe with 46 seconds left as Cabot scored the game’s final five points. The Cyclones missed a three and a two on the other end and Cabot held on.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like that before, maybe at the state tournament last year,” Sterrenberg said when asked to assess his fourth-quarter performance, which included 17 points over the final 2:20. “Coach told me he wanted the ball in my hand. I was kind of down and I started firing and a made a couple and started feeling it.”
Sterrenberg, who finished with 29 points after entering the final period with only seven, struggled all night just to get decent looks. When he did, they didn’t fall. Early anyway. He missed only one shot in his remarkable run when a lay-up rimmed out. He knocked down 4 of 4 from beyond the arc, 2 of 3 two-pointers and 6 of 6 at the line.
“They took it from us,” said Russellville head coach Joe Sitkowski. “We were guarding (Sterrenberg). My kids would come back to the bench and say, ‘What are we supposed to do?’”
Good ball movement led to three quick Cabot baskets and a 6-0 lead, but Russellville made three consecutive three-pointers and 6-5 post player Hunter Hawkins blocked four shots as the Cylcones began to turn up the defensive pressure. They led 27-25 at the half. Cabot continued to struggle offensively in a 4-point third quarter when it made only 2 of 10 shots.
Russellville’s largest lead of the game was nine points at the 5:55 mark. Bridges said even then his club didn’t panic.
“One time out, I told them, ‘Guys, there’s a lot of time left,’” he said. “We were pressing and I told them just to play basketball and let the game come to them. Man, those kids knew the importance of this game. I put our five seniors on the floor and told them, ‘It’s you now. You want to win this game; I’m going to go with you five.’”
Cabot outscored Russellville 31-19 in the final period. Johnson added 15 points and seven rebounds, while Miles Monroe had seven points and four boards. Cabot made 19 of 45 from the field, 6 of 20 from deep. They knocked down 16 of 22 from the stripe.
Russellville finished the game 17 of 38, including 5 of 17 from three. They made 15 of 18 free throws.
“We played with a little of this tonight,” Bridges said, pounding his heart with his palm. “That’s the only reason we won this game.”