The long hours and hard work have paid off for the Cabot Panthers as they get set to play in the 7A State Tournament today in Conway.
After a season of playing familiar foes, the Panthers will be in uncharted waters when they take on the Rogers Heritage War Eagles.
Cabot finished as the third seed in the 7A-Central power ratings. The top two teams in the conference — North Little Rock and Little Rock Parkview — are two of the top teams in the state.
The Panthers finished their regular season 16-10 and expect to add another win against the War Eagles.
"I think if we can establish our inside game, then we can win this," said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. "We work it inside and that’s not their strength. They like the perimeter. If Mike (Smith), A.I. (Adolpho Iglesias) and those guys are ready, then I think we can take advantage."
Heritage will look to work the ball around the perimeter, especially to their two main guards, Wyatt Kinnamon and Crist Olsen. Both can shoot the three and mid-range jumpers if given the space.
"From everyone I’ve talked to in the West, those two guys are the ones you have to watch," said Bridges. "We need to know where they are on the court at all times. I expect them to score, we just can’t let them both have career days."
Cabot’s defense has always been a strength, and defending the perimeter shouldn’t be a problem for the Panthers. The Panthers have held some of the top scoring teams in the state in check for long stretches this season.
"We’ve played some real good ball at times this year and I hope we’re ready to do that again," Bridges said. "We’ve shown the ability to be a good defensive team all over the floor, so I’m expecting that."
The Panthers had a couple letdowns late in the season, but seemed to get back on track in Friday night’s blowout win over the Searcy Lions.
"Defense became a priority for again, and we got better as the game went instead of worse like we had been doing, so that’s a good sign," Bridges said.
Getting sophomore forward Garrett Rowe back and closer to 100 percent healthy will be a big factor in how far the Panthers can go in the state tournament. Rowe is probably around 85 percent according to Bridges.
The icy weather is a cause of some concern for the Panthers, since every coach and player would rather be going through their normal routine before a playoff game.
"I’m just ready to play, ready to get these guys on the court," said Bridges. "I’d love for these seniors who have worked so hard, to be able to say they made the state tournament and won a game or two."