SPORTS >> Panthers use Steele to strengthen lineup
By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor
It was two comebacks in one for the Cabot Panthers at Beebe on Friday.
Panthers third baseman Ty Steele continued his comeback from a torn leg ligament, and with his help Cabot bounced back from a late-inning deficit to blow past Beebe 9-2 in a non-conference victory.
“It was actually closer than the score appeared,” Cabot coach Jay Fitch said.
Steele, who tore his posterior cruciate ligament while sliding in February, hit a two-run home run to spark an eight-run, sixth-inning rally.
“Thank goodness we’re getting him back and he’s healthy now,” Fitch said.
Steele’s first game back from his injury was as a designated hitter against Conway on March 30. Steele, a Henderson State signee who has been wearing a brace, was clearly slowed by the torn ligament at the time but has been improving steadily ever since.
“He’s an RBI guy,” Fitch said. “We’ve got him hitting in the five and six hole. That’s been kind of the chink in our armor this year. Pitching has been great, defense has been great and hitting has been kind of inconsistent.”
Beebe was leading 2-1 when Steele hit his two-run drive to left for the 3-2 lead. Immediately the Panthers’ bats seemed to come to life, and Fitch hopes Steele continues to have that effect on the offense.
“Everybody started hitting and we just had a really big inning there and we scored eight runs,” Fitch said.
Cabot continued its quality pitching as Tyler Erickson got the victory to improve to 3-0.
“Tyler Erickson has been throwing some of these non-conference games and helped us beat a very good Beebe team,” Fitch said. “They’re going to give folks fits in the 5A Southeast. They could win the thing.”
Cabot is in the 7A-Central.
The Panthers’ Tuesday starter, Matt Evans, is 5-0 while Cole Nicholson is 3-4 as the usual Thursday starter.
“He’s been kind of the victim of our poor offense,” Fitch said of Nicholson and pointed out a hard-luck conference loss taken by Nicholson against Little Rock Central on Thursday.
Nicholson gave up three hits while Cabot out hit Central 7-3 and still lost.
But with Steele returning, Fitch hopes Nicholson, and the rest of the staff, will benefit from more run support.
Fitch is also hoping to see something out of some untried pitchers on his roster. During non-conference games, like the Beebe matchup or this Friday’s game with 6A-East member Searcy, Fitch hopes to test his pitching depth.
Catcher Andrew Reynolds may take the mound to start the Panthers’ home game with the Lions, Fitch said.
“It’s probably the hardest position to go from, from catcher to pitcher,” Fitch said.
“From the catching position you’ve got a real short arm arc where in pitching it’s real long so it’s a totally different throw. A lot of kids have trouble with that.”
But frequently, at the high school level, Fitch said a coach sometimes finds his best athletes behind the plate, which makes them capable of making the transition to pitcher.
“Catcher at our level has got have a good arm,” Fitch said. “So at the high school level he’s going to be a candidate to help you on the mound too.”
Cabot is locked in a tight race with the rest of the 7A-Central. Entering Tuesday, Central, Conway, Russellville and Van Buren were 3-2 in conference and Cabot, Bryant, Little Rock Catholic and North Little Rock were 2-3.
The Panthers were 9-5 overall while Bryant boasted the league’s best overall record at 15-5.