Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

SPORTS >> Lonoke gets good draw for regional

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Lonoke boys and girls basketball teams begin play tonight in the Class AAA Region 3 tournament in Clinton. They are part of the four teams from the 6AAA that meet up with the top four finishers in the 5AAA conference’s district tournament. That event didn’t finish until last night after Leader deadlines. Regard-less of the outcome of that tournament, things worked out about as well as possible for the Lonoke boys.

The Jackrabbits got into the regional by upsetting DeWitt in the second round of the 6AAA district tournament, and will face the winner of tonight’s matchup between Clarksville and Pottsville in the finals of the 5AAA district.

The reason that’s good for Lonoke is because Atkins and Dardanelle were the top-two finishers in the conference regular season, but were both upset in the semifinals of district.

Clarksville pulled the ball out of play and lulled Atkins to sleep for a 25-19 victory. The score at halftime in that game was 2-0 Clarksville. The score after three quarters was 6-3 Clarksville. Pottsville upset an athletic Dardanelle team by packing the middle and forcing the Sandlizards to shoot outside, which they did poorly en route to the loss.

Lonoke coach Wes Swift admits that Lonoke got a good draw in the first round, but stops far short of saying it means chalking up a win in tonight’s 8:30 p.m. matchup in Clinton.

“We match up better with them because neither team is going to dominate us inside,” Swift said.

“That can happen with a small team like ours at times, but I don’t see either of those teams doing that. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy win. We’re still going to have to bust our butts to beat either team. We’re not good enough not to. We can’t coast and beat anybody. Both teams have things that they do well, and we’re going to have to be ready for it.”
Despite what happened in the Atkins game, Clarksville is the more up-tempo team of the two teams in the final. The Panthers play man and run-and-jump most of the time.

Point guard Calvin Simms is the centerpiece of the offense, and he’s a dangerous slasher and streaky shooter.
Pottsville plays mostly 2-3 zone, and dares teams to shoot from outside.

“Monday we practiced for Pottsville, today we’re going to practice like we’re going to play Clarksville,” Swift said Tuesday morning.

“I know this, Wednes-day night is going to be the most intense shoot-around you’ve ever seen.”

Pulaski Academy’s upset of top-ranked Little Rock Christian in the final of the 6AAA tournament means the Jackrabbits will likely have to face the Warriors for a fourth time in the second round. LRCA’s size presents the biggest matchup problem for Lonoke of any team in the tournament.

The Lady Jackrabbits also don’t know who they are playing, but it will be either Dover or Clarksville.

The Lonoke ladies are in that position because of an upset loss to PA in the semifinals that forced them to accept the No. 3 seed.

Dover won the conference, but Lonoke girls coach Nathan Morris isn’t sure they are the best team. The Lady Pirates and Panthers split during the regular season, but Clarksville surprisingly lost to Pottsville in the season finale, giving Dover the top seed in the district tournament.

“Most of the coaches I’ve talked to say that Clarksville is the harder team to beat,” Morris said.

“They’re more athletic and they have the best post player in the conference. They’ve also got three shooters around her. Dover plays awfully well and they’re extremely patient. Some would call it stalling, but I call what they do just being extremely patient. They’re looking for the best shot available, and they’ll take it whenever it comes.”
Regardless of who his team plays, Morris says his strategy will be similar.

“We’re going to go out and try to put pressure on the ball and get it inside,” Morris said.

“Our size makes us a matchup problem for either team, especially Dover, and if we can get it in the middle, they’re going to have to foul us or let us score. We just have to execute, which is something we didn’t do in our last game. So hopefully we’ll play a lot better than we did then.”

The Lady ‘Rabbits will play at 7 p.m. tonight. A win means another likely matchup with CAC, who faces the 5AAA No.4 seed Atkins in the first round. That game will be at 7 p.m. Friday.

The region’s final round begins at 1 p.m. Saturday with the girls third-place game.

The boys third-place game will be at 2:30.

The girls championship game is set for 7 p.m. and the boys will start shortly thereafter.