Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

SPORTS >> Panthers opening door for ’Rabbits

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers may not have reached the state finals, but coach Mike Malham was more than happy to give Lonoke a leg up on the way to its championship game.

Malham, athletic director Johnny White and the Panthers have allowed the Jackrabbits to make Panther Stadium a second home during the run up to Saturday’s 4A championship between Lonoke and Shiloh Christian at War Memorial Stadium.

Over the past couple weeks, Lonoke has left its natural grass playing and practice fields to work out on Cabot’s 20-yard, artificial indoor surface and on the fake turf of Panther Stadium.

The courtesy has allowed the Jackrabbits to avoid the rain and to work out on a surface similar to the field at War Memorial.

Lonoke practiced indoors at Cabot a week ago and was scheduled for a workout there today.

Lonoke has a two-hour practice scheduled at War Memorial for Thursday.

“He said, ‘Hey you all win, you all feel free to come back,’ ” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said of Malham. “That was nice.”

“They’d do the same for us if they had something like that,” Malham said.

To Malham, it just made sense to be a good neighbor, especially after Cabot bowed out of the 7A playoffs with a 14-10, semifinal loss to eventual state champion Springdale Har-Ber on Nov. 27.

“We’re done and they’re still playing,” Malham said of Lonoke. “They’re in the same county. If anybody wants to use it and we’re not using it, it’s not a big deal.”

Malham said Cabot has opened its doors to other teams like Des Arc and Strong, which is located in south Arkansas but had playoff games this year in Augusta and Des Arc.

“We’re super-nice people, man,” Malham said. “We get along with everybody.”

But Malham admitted playing favorites with a team like Lonoke, Cabot’s Lonoke County neighbor, against teams further away.

“Lonoke’s in our county, a county school,” Malham said. “They’re close. Obviously we want anybody in our county, Lonoke, Carlisle. We pull for all those schools. England.”

After the Panthers fell to Har-Ber in the playoffs for the third straight year, Malham wouldn’t mind seeing Lonoke beat Springdale-based Shiloh Christian, which is heavily favored and gunning for its sixth championship in 11 years.

“Lonoke, that would be a giant killer right there,” Malham said. “David and Goliath. According to the polls, Shiloh is the best team in the state. I’d like to see them do it week in and week out against 7A competition.”

Shiloh Christian’s overwhelming success through the years and its apparent advantages as a well-funded, faith-based private school with an unlimited base from which to draw talent all help to make the Saints the prohibitive favorites Saturday.

“I’m not sure why Springdale and Har-Ber, they’re having trouble finding non-conference opponents,” Malham said. “I don’t see why they don’t play them.”

Shiloh Christian has outscored its opponents by an average 22.2 points a game this year, though it had some scares in the playoffs in a 56-35, second-round victory over DeQueen and a 51-49 squeaker the next week. The Saints beat Bald Knob 48-7 in the semifinals Friday.

“I hope they play them a good ballgame,” Malham said of Lonoke. “It’s going to be a tough game.”

Malham recalled seeing Shiloh Christian himself in one of the Saints’ recent state championships.

“From what they had on the field they could have competed with anybody in our league,” Malham said. “They definitely have an advantage with no boundaries. That’s a big area up there and anybody can go there that they let in.”