Leader Blues

Friday, May 08, 2009

SPORTS >> Lady Panthers fall

Leader sports editor

It’s hard enough knowing you were a run or two away from a berth in the state championship. It’s extra difficult when you know you should have won the game.

The Cabot Lady Panthers committed a base running mistake that may have cost them a run and committed a pair of errors that gave a run to North Little Rock in a 3-2 loss in the 7A state semifinals on Wednesday at the Sherwood Sports Complex.

“They had a good run,” said Cabot head coach Becky Steward, whose Lady Panthers finished 21-7. “No one expected us to be here. They expected a Fayetteville-North Little Rock matchup.

“We’ll be back.”

The Lady Panthers, the No. 4 seed out of the Central Conference, were making a bid for their first state final appearance since 2000 and twice enjoyed leads in the contest. But Allie Shelton erased that second lead with a home run in the fourth inning that tied the game at 2. North Little Rock took its only lead of the game when Hannah Escovedo grounded a sharp single just under the glove of Cabot second baseman Kristi Flesher with two outs in the sixth to bring home what proved to be the winning run from second base.

“Kristi (just about got to it),” Steward said. “A half step to either side. (Escovedo) had hit it to this side (on an earlier single) but she took it back between Kristi and the bag. Things happen for a reason.”

It was a game of patterns for the Lady Panthers, who went 1-2-3 in the second, fourth and sixth innings and got two singles in each of the first, third and fifth. Doubles by Cherie Barfield and Jenny Evans produced a 1-0 Cabot lead after half an inning.

But Cabot’s only two errors of the game came in the bottom half of the inning and it allowed the Lady Wildcats to tie it.

A hit batter to open the frame followed by a pair of throwing errors made it 1-1. North Little Rock’s bid to take the lead was thwarted when Becca Bakalekos made a diving catch of a soft liner in center field with runners at second and third.

Cabot reclaimed the lead in the third, but may have missed an opportunity for more. Jordan Reed’s sinking line drive got past North Little Rock’s diving center fielder for a double and Bakalekos followed with a line single to left. Bakalekos stole second, but thinking the ball had been foul tipped, headed back to first base. She was declared out.

“(Bakalekos) said their second baseman said ‘foul ball,’” Steward explained. “She said the shortstop repeated ‘foul ball,’ and she was walking back and heard (the umpire) say ‘foul ball.’ But that’s neither here nor there. They took advantage of their base runners and we didn’t.”

Cabot was able to get a run home in the inning when Barfield grounded out to second to score Reed and put the Lady Panthers up 2-1.

Barfield was marching along on the mound, retiring 10 in a row until Shelton stepped to the plate with two outs in the fourth.

The tall right-hander hit a long drive to left-center and Cabot left fielder Brooke Taylor nearly made the play on it as she crashed through the temporary fence.

Cabot had a chance to answer back in the fifth. Chelsea Conrade laced a single to right to start things off. One out later, Jordan Reed hit it right on the button but right at the North Little Rock center fielder. With two outs, Bakalekos lined a pitch into left to put the go-ahead run into scoring position. But Barfield tapped back to the third baseman to end the threat.

The Lady Panthers then went in order in the sixth and seventh innings as the Lady Wildcats advanced to the title game on Saturday at noon, when they’ll take on Bryant.

“The errors (in the first inning) I don’t think hurt us,” Steward said. “We jumped on them 1-0 and we believed all year long that if we score first, we’re going to win. They believed that going into the very last inning.”

Cabot out-hit North Little Rock 6-3, but two walks, a hit batter and two errors helped the cause of the Lady Wildcats, who committed no errors and issued no walks in the contest.

Bakalekos had two hits, while Barfield, Evans, Conrade and Jordan Reed had one apiece.

Barfield struck out three and allowed three hits.