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Cabot victory away from first title

CABOT -- When he hired Ronnie Goodwin to be Cabot's new baseball coach in June 2013, then-athletic director Steve Roberts showed him the Panthers' trophy case inside the school's athletic fieldhouse.

"We don't have one in baseball. We'd love for you to be that guy for us," Roberts told Goodwin.

Goodwin and the Panthers (24-7) have an opportunity to fill a spot in the trophy case today as they play Springdale Har-Ber in their first Class 7A state baseball final.

The game is scheduled for 10 a.m. at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

Cabot hired Goodwin after one season at Little Rock Central. While Central and Cabot are both Class 7A schools, the allure of having a baseball team made up of players who have been together for years, as well as the Panthers' facilities, helped Goodwin move from Arkansas' capital city to Lonoke County.

"We've got a community that is very tight-knit," Goodwin said. "When you have that, you have kids who grow up playing together. Whereas at Central, you have kids from seven to eight different ballparks showing up into one, so they're not as familiar with one another. You watch the way our kids react and interact with each other, away from the field and off the field, you can tell that these relationships go much deeper than four years with me.

"Some of these kids have been on the same team since T-ball. When you have those relationships, special things can happen. I thought that with the community support versus the scatteredness of Little Rock, it might be a good place to be and a place where you can be in the position that we're in."

Goodwin has led Cabot to a school-best 24 victories this season and the 7A-Central Conference championship.

"They're playing as well as they can play," Goodwin said. "I tell our teams this every year, the goal is to be playing your best baseball at the end of April and early May. What happens in late February or early March, you just want to get better from there. You don't want to peak too soon.

"I think we're playing as well as we possibly can right now. I think we're playing with a lot of confidence."

The Panthers played in the Class 7A quarterfinals the past two seasons, losing to Har-Ber in 2015 and Bryant in 2016. For infielder Blake McCutchen, he said leadership has been the biggest difference for Cabot this season in getting to the state final.

"I always thought we could do it," McCutchen said. "I've been playing with these guys for a while. I've always thought we've had good chemistry."

Senior right-hander Logan Gilbertson, who is 6-3 with a 1.18 ERA, will start for the Panthers against the Wildcats. He said he's enjoyed his final season at Cabot before he heads to the University of Central Arkansas.

"We've been living on a high," Gilbertson said. "We've been winning. We haven't had too much adversity. We've had a few injuries, but we're healthy and we're ready to rock and roll."

Gilbertson was a forward on Cabot's 2016 boys basketball team that defeated future Kentucky star Malik Monk and Bentonville. He talked to his team this week about that experience, but warned his team to stay humble and focused going into today's game.

"We'll see it [the trophy] when we take our pictures," Gilbertson said. "But you can't touch what's not yours. We won't be holding the trophies yet."

Cabot's athletic success has been traced to football since the early 1980s when Mike Malham arrived to coach the Panthers. But in recent years, the school has earned accolades in other sports, including basketball and track and field.

Gilbertson said he's proud of helping Cabot's baseball program make its mark on the school and hopes he can be part of the school's first baseball championship.

"We're finally being well-rounded in more than one sport," Gilbertson said. "For the longest time, we were just a football school. Now we're bringing more culture to the school."

Sports on 05/19/2017

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