Leader Blues

Friday, December 22, 2006

SPORTS >> AL Owls take title with win in finals

BY JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Abundant Life made the most out of a free trip into the finals of the Lutheran Christmas Classic Thursday night. The Owls made it into the finals after their first round opponent Des Arc failed to show on Wednesday, and took the tournament championship with a 55-49 win over a scrappy Atkins squad.

Both teams struggled through a sloppy first half, but inspired play from sophomore guard Dane Lottner during the first four minutes of the third quarter gave the Owls the momentum for the remainder of the game. The Red Devils cut Abundant Life’s lead to only one point with 1:21 remaining, but the Owls managed the clock wisely in the late going, and also hit the free throws necessary to secure the championship.

Lottner finished with 15 points in the game, and also caught the eye of his head coach with the strong performance in one of his first starts as an Owl.“That’s the story of the game right there,” Owls coach Tim Ballard said. “You pretty much know what you’re going to get from Thomas (Cheney), Colby (Woolverton) and John (Fowler), but I’ve been saying that I needed one more guy to step up and get in the mix.” Ballard was also pleased with his team’s performance at the charity stripe down the stretch.

“We want to shoot 75 percent from the line as a team,” Ballard said. “Every game we have lost so far, we shot under that, but every game that we have won, we shot well from the free throw line, and tonight was no different.” Abundant Life got off to a quick 5-0 lead with a goal from John Michael Fowler, followed by a three pointer from Colby Woolverton. Atkins regrouped with a time out, and returned to the court strong. The Red Devils put up four quick points, followed by a three-point basket from Logan Childress a minute later to give Atkins its first lead of the game 7-5 at the 4:37 mark of the first quarter.

The Owls struggled from the floor in the first half. Along with a number of rushed shots that fell short, Abundant Life was also guilty of committing an unusually high number of turnovers for a team that prides itself on taking care of the ball. The only saving grace for the Owls in the first half was that the Red Devils were also guilty of the same crimes. Quick trips up and down the court made for a fast paced game, but all of the turnovers and poor shots led to a defensive struggle in the second quarter. Abundant Life outscored Atkins 11-7 in the second, cutting the Red Devils’ lead to 20-19 at the half.

Both teams got more into the groove a little better to start the third quarter, but none more than Lottner. After a few bad plays in the first half, Lottner made up for his mistakes and then some, carrying the Owls from a 23-19 deficit to a 25-23 lead by the 5:07 mark of the third quarter.

Lottner got his first points of the second half after he blocked a shot from Devils guard D.J. Brinkley, and took the ball down court. He was fouled in the process of going to the hoop, but hit both free throws to cut Atkins’ lead to 23-21. Lottner tied the game moments later with an inside basket assisted by Woolverton, and finished off his impressive run with a steal he took in for a layup.

While Lottner grabbed the lead for Abundant Life, it was Fowler who extended it. Woolverton found Fowler underneath the basket on back-to-back drives, and Fowler called his own number on the next drive for six straight points, and 10 unanswered points for the Owls combined with Lottner’s scores to give Abundant Life a 29-23 lead.

The outside shooting of Brinkley was the only thing that kept the Red Devils alive in the third quarter. Brinkley had nine of Atkins’ 12 points in the third, all of which came from three-point baskets. Woolverton answered one of those tres, and the Owls carried a 38-32 lead heading in to the final quarter. A three pointer from Nathaniel Tarkington with 2:46 left in the game cut AL’s lead to 47-46, but four-straight free throws from Fowler gave the Owls the insurance needed to hold on. Woolverton added a pair of free throws in the final seconds, and Fowler set the final margin with a foul shot with two seconds remaining.

Fowler led Abundant Life with 18 points, including 6 of 8 free throws in the final two minutes. Lottner added 15 points, and Woolverton finished with 12 points for the Owls. For Atkins, Brinkley finished with 11 points and Tarkington had 10 points. The win improves Abundant Life’s record to 16-4.

The Lady Owls also made it to the finals due to a forfeit, but fell to Clarendon in the finals 48-42. Sierra Durham led Abundant Life with 16 points, with 13 points added by sophomore Brittany Sharp. Missed opportunities at the free throw line would be the Achilles’ heal for the Lady Owls. With 16 of 36 at the charity stripe, the 20 missed points would prove to be the difference in a game that finished with a slim, six point margin. The loss gives the Lady Owls a 13-8 record.