Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

SPORTS >> Lady Panthers get tourney No. 4 seed

Lady Panthers junior post player Stephanie Odom looks for an open teammate.

By TODD TRAUB

Leader sports editor

There were times this season the youthful Cabot Lady Panthers looked doubtful as state tournament qualifiers, even to their coaches.

But Cabot picked up steam late in the season and finished strong with a 62-40 victory over Russellville in the regular season finale at Cabot on Friday.

“More than once,” assistant Charles Ruple said of the times he wondered if the Lady Panthers would make the postseason.

“Tonight solidified the opportunity for us to play as a fourth seed.”

Cabot, No. 4 out of the 7A-Central, plays West No. 5 Fort Smith Southside at 1 p.m. today in Van Buren.

“We’re playing better,” Ruple said. “When I say better, we’re playing more consistently, maybe not that much better. But we’ve been playing so many young people, sophomores, we’re starting one or two, with two or three off the bench, and that’s just starting to come around.”

Cabot only had two seniors to honor during Friday’s senior night: 6-3 post Sarah Moore and 5-5 guard Amber Rock.

“They’re very consistent,” Ruple said. “Sarah started off and on since she was a sophomore. Amber started off and on since she was a sophomore.

“Amber has had to make a transition position-wise. She was our point guard a lot the last couple of years. This year she’s played a lot more off-guard and two-guard.”

Ruple said having just two seniors made them all the more valuable.

“I hope both of them, if they would like, would have the opportunity to play later on,” Ruple said. “They’ve done a lot for the program and they’ve been very consistent.”

But since Cabot is a young team, it has had to turn to its underclassmen for much of this year. That was true again Friday as sophomore Melissa Wolff scored a game-high 18 points, including the Lady Panthers’ first six.

Junior guard Brooke Taylor added 12 points for Cabot.

“They feel more comfortable now,” Ruple said of the younger players, especially the sophomores. “They’ve played with these kids, against them and with them, all season long. Now that everybody has the experience, they’re one game away from being like a junior now. That’s a good sign.”

Cabot never trailed and faced just one 3-3 tie early. The Lady Panthers had a 36-19 halftime lead after sophomore forward Laci Boyett made an inside shot just before the second-quarter buzzer.

Russellville could only get within 14 points of the lead the rest of the way, and that was at the start of the third quarter.

Ruple said that heading into this week’s state tournament, Cabot was in pretty good shape from a chemistry and health standpoint, other than a knee injury to sophomore guard Kaki Thomas he described as a “tweak.”