SPORTS >> Lady Panthers come up short
Leader sports editor
FORT SMITH – Missed lay-ups, missed free throws and missed opportunities brought Cabot’s season to an end on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the 7A state tournament at Stubblefield Center at UA-Fort Smith.
Fort Smith Northside pulled away down the stretch to beat the Lady Panthers 53-47 as Cabot closed the season with a 20-8 record. Northside, meanwhile, reached the state semifinals for the 13th straight season after posting their 12th consecutive 20-win season. The Lady Bears (21-8) take on unbeaten Fayetteville today in one semifinal.
The Lady Panthers shot just 35 percent. That might not have been fatal -- given Northside’s 28 percent shooting -- but Cabot also made only 10 of 22 free throws, turned it over 15 times and was dominated on the glass, 50-36. The Lady Bears pulled down a remarkable 22 offensive rebounds.
“It was the little things,” said Cabot coach Carla Crowder. “Not blocking out, not stepping to passes and a lack of concentration. Giving up the offensive rebounds is a lack of effort.
But the Lady Panthers, despite all that, had every chance to pull this one out. After trailing 27-20 early in the second half, used a 14-4 run over the final seven minutes of the period to take a 34-31 lead. That included Shelby Ashcraft’s improbable falling down, line-drive three-pointer at the buzzer.
Ashcraft, who closed out her career with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three steals, scored on a drive early in the final period as Cabot led 38-35.
“Shelby was very determined,” Crowder said. “She really took it to the basket.”
But a pair of free throws, two fast break lay-ups by Ryneka Church and Synora Phillips’ drive and scoop had Northside to the good 43-40.
Cabot tied it up with 2:28 left when Stephanie Glover dished to Jenna Bailey for a bucket and free throw.
Twenty-four seconds later, Northside took the lead for good when Church weaved through the lane for a bucket. Over the next 35 seconds, the Lady Panthers turned it over twice and missed a lay-up.
The Lady Bears added a pair of free throws to go up 47-43, but Cabot narrowed that to two on Amelie Benjamin’s bucket inside with 39 seconds left. She missed the free throw and Northside made 5 of 6 free throws to go up 52-45 with 19 seconds left and put it out of reach.
Whether it was state tournament jitters, the unfamiliar spacious arena or the ferocious Northside defense, Cabot struggled throughout the first half to find an offensive rhythm.
At one point, the Lady Panthers went seven minutes and 10 seconds between field goals, all the while converting only 4 of 14 free throws.
“They had a lot of quickness and we were a little nervous,” Crowder said. “But missed free throws is something you can’t control.”
The Lady Panthers shot a respectable 40 percent in the first half, but Northside’s 10-rebound advantage allowed the Lady Bears to take 12 more shots.
Fortunately, for Cabot, Northside was woeful from the field, making only 7 of 32 shots, only 2 of 11 from deep.
Nothing summed up Cabot’s early struggles more than UALR signee Ashcraft’s miss on a breakaway a minute and a half into the contest. Ashcraft settled down to score seven first-half points.
Her weave through the lane with 1:12 left in the first quarter staked the Lady Panthers to a 10-9 lead after one. But that was Cabot’s last basket until Jenna Bailey got a steal and lay-up with 2:02 left in the half. But a Lady Bear putback late in the half staked Northside to a 25-20 lead at the half.
Bailey finished with seven points and four steals. Sarah Moore added six points, four blocks and eight boards and Benjamin also scored six.
“They’re upset,” Crowder said after talking to her team, which consists of eight seniors. “They don’t like to lose. But it was a fun group and a great bunch of kids.”
Cabot will lose Ashcraft, Glover, Bailey and Benjamin among players who started or saw significant playing time.