SPORTS >> Cabot scrapping into state
By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor
Cabot coach Jerry Bridges hadn’t had a chance to open the gift bags his players had given him during senior night festivities Friday, but Bridges knew what he wanted to find.
“I hope it’s a couple of stress balls,” he said.
“I’m going to go home and take two stress balls and go to bed,” assistant Mike Tucker said on his way out the door.
The 43-34 victory over Russellville in the 7A-Central finale may not have been a nail-biter, but it did have its moments.
Russellville cut a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit to 32-25 when Eric Turner made a three-pointer with 3:49 left. The Cyclones had an outside chance when they pulled within 35-27 on a pair of Terence Daniels free throws with 1:04 remaining, but the Panthers held on to enter this week’s state tournament on an up note.
Cabot, the No. 6 seed in the 7A-Central, plays West No. 3 Fort Smith Northside at 5:30 p.m. today in the first round of the 7A state tournament at Van Buren.
“One of our goals coming in was let’s get to that state tournament,” Bridges said. “Let’s see what we can do. And we’re there and people don’t give us much of a chance but heck, it’s like I told them a couple weeks ago, ‘As long as you’ve got a pulse you’ve got a chance.’ ”
Cabot showed plenty of signs of life throughout the game.
The Panthers (12-13, 6-8) started all seniors as a tribute in the team’s final home game. That may have led to some shaky shooting early — Turner made the first basket on a three-pointer with 3:41 left in the first quarter — but Cabot responded by building a 16-11 lead at halftime.
The Panthers improved that to 26-15 when Alex Baker made a three-pointer with 2:52 left in the third quarter and the Panthers got their biggest lead when Baker hit a fade-away jumper to make it 30-17 with 6:24 to go in the game.
“Neither team was really shooting well early,” Bridges said. “But when I start who I start that throws your chemistry off a little bit.”
Everyday starters Kai Davis and Darin Jones began the night on the bench to allow seniors like Patrick Martin, 5-9, Karsten Powers, 5-11 and Jacob Ellerbee, 5-9, to work in with established senior contributors Seth Bloomberg, 5-9, Baker, 5-9, and Christian Armstrong, 6-3.
“Those are six good seniors and I wanted to be sure to give them an opportunity to play tonight,” Bridges said.
But the group had its problems early with Russellville’s zone before the shots started to fall.
“It took forever,” Bridges said.
Eventually Cabot, dictating the slower pace it has preferred all year and outscoring Russellville 10-3 in the second quarter, took command.
“The pace, we’ve played slow and fast all year,” Russellville coach Joe Sitkowski said. “One of the big things to our game is us shooting the ball and we didn’t come out shooting it well and we got our head down a little bit and you can’t do that.”
Baker led Cabot with 14 points and Armstrong finished with 13, scoring nine in the fourth quarter. Armstrong also had 15 rebounds.
“Armstrong was incredible,” Bridges said. “A double-double, my gosh. He owned the paint for us.”
Turner made three 3-pointers to lead Russellville with nine points.
“They beat us five at our place and beat us, what, nine here? They’re a good basketball team,” Sitkowski said and singled out Baker for praise. “They play good defense and 23 is a good player. They’ve got some other kids that can shoot the ball too, but he’s what makes them go.”
Bridges, in his sixth season, has led the Panthers to the state tournament for the third straight year. The first came a season after Cabot left the tough, 6A-East Conference and began a mild streak of postseason trips after years of being closed out of the tournament.
Bridges said the push for state started eight games ago.
“With eight games to go we said it’s our goal to have a winning record in a pretty tough conference and we went 5-3 so we’ve done some things,” Bridges said. “Hopefully we’ve got a little confidence and momentum heading into state and, hey, let’s go play and see. I’m excited. I can’t wait to do it.”