SPORTS>>Lady Jackrabbits take region crown
POCAHONTAS — After wrapping up the district title a week earlier, the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits backed up their successful league season with an overall win in the 4A East Region Tournament held at the Schoonover Field House last weekend with a thrilling 46-45 win over hosts Pocahontas in the finals on Saturday.
A big lead for Lonoke in the opening quarter was eventually turned into a one-point Lady Redskin lead with 3:43 left in the game. The final three minutes of the contest would prove to be a complete dogfight, with Lonoke prevailing on a last-second inbounds pass that was converted into the final two points needed to secure the win.
The championship gives the Lady Jackrabbits a first-round bye during this week’s 4A state tournament in Bald Knob. Lonoke will await the winner of today’s game between North No. 3 seed Booneville and South No. 4 seed Ashdown. The Lady ‘Rabbits will take on the winner tomorrow at 7 p.m.
Lonoke may have been the home team on the scoreboard in the Saturday night finals, but the Redskin-heavy crowd told a different story. The boisterous student section filled a complete section of the visitors’ side stands. The home crowd filled the rest of the visitors’ side and two-thirds of the home side stands.
Senior post player Calisha Kirk got Lonoke out to solid 12-1 lead by the 3:38 mark of the first quarter with four separate inside shots, two of which had free throws added at the end for a total of 10 first quarter points. Kirk got physical with the Lady Redskins from the very beginning, drawing the foul on all four early goals.
Guard Kristy Shinn was also on the mark from the very start of the contest. Shinn was coming off a game-leading performance the night before against Bald Knob in which the senior shot strong from the outside, racking up 15 of her total 28 points for the tourney. Shinn looked to repeat that accomplishment early on against Pocahontas, with nine first-half points.
The Lady Redskins began to find their legs towards the end of the first quarter. After falling behind by 12 points early, Pocahontas went on a 7-0 run to end the opening frame courtesy of two three pointers from senior guard Amanda Moore.
Kirk did not find her way to the basket quite as easily in the second quarter, but Jenny Evans would take advantage of the extra defensive attention given to Kirk with a pair of baskets in the middle of the period that helped the Lady ‘Rabbits stay out front. After spending almost the entire season on the bench with a knee injury, junior Carrie Mitchell also found the goal in the game with a shot at the 4:53 mark that made the score 23-17.
The Lady Jackrabbits stayed in control of the game until the fourth quarter, when the threat of a Lady Redskin comeback became reality at the 5:44 mark. Two straight steals by Pocahontas were converted by layups from Moore. Moore got the first steal and took it coast-to-coast, and took the assist from Megan Flanagan on the next fast break to put the Lady Redskins ahead for the first time in the game 43-42 with 3:43 left in the game.
Freshman forward Asiah Scribner got the lead back for Lonoke at the three-minute mark when she drove to the right side of the lane for an easy jumper, but three unsuccessful possessions for each team was finally ended when Flanagan stole the ball from Evans and put it in with 1:29 left in the game to give the lead back to Pocahontas.
The Lady Redskins had a chance to put the game away in the final 30 seconds, but a shot under the goal by junior Autumn Wren was batted away by Shinn, with Shinn grabbing the ball after the block. Shinn quickly got the ball to Lauren Harper, who drew the foul from Wren. Harper missed the front end of the one-and-one, and the Lady Redskins got the team rebound when Kirk couldn’t snag the ball before it bounced out of bounds.
Wren went to the free throw line for the Lady Redskins, but gave the ball back to Lonoke when she jumped into the lane too early after missing her first attempt. Evans then went to the line for the Lady ‘Rabbits, but missed both of her shots.
Kirk had been relatively quiet since her early scores, but came back to life for the Lady ‘Rabbits when they needed her the most. A couple of cheap fouls late in the third quarter and early in the fourth forced Kirk to play a little timid, but she let it all hang out in the final moments.
Kirk chased down the loose ball from Evans free-throw attempt, and got into a tie-up with Moore for the ball. Possession went to Lonoke, and Lady ‘Rabbits coach Nathan Morris took a time out to set up their last chance to re-take the lead.
Junior Hayley O’Cain in bounded the ball, finding Kirk open under the goal on the right side. Kirk put the ball in off the glass to give Lonoke a 46-45 lead with 11 seconds left.
It was plenty of time for Pocahontas to answer, but their best would not quite be good enough, as two shots by Moore rattled off the rim, with the second one falling into the clutches of Evans as the buzzer sounded.
“We knew we were going to get some stuff on the inside, and we did,” Morris said. “We had to pick our poison. If we had defended every shot, we would have all fouled out and they would have hit free throws, so we had to adjust our defense to a man-to-man. We just blocked out, and limited the three-point shot when we could, and it worked for us.”
Morris was happy with the solid team effort, but pointed to his guards as the one of the major differences in the game.
“That freshman point guard and that senior guard handled the ball tonight,” Morris said. “Michaela Brown and Kristy Shinn handled the basketball. Michaela don’t always drive to the basket, but she really took a big step tonight.”
The total points scored by each Lady Jackrabbit throughout the four-day event tells the teamwork story for Lonoke. O’Cain was scoreless in the finals, but totals of 18 points and 12 points in the first two games gave her a total of 30 points. Evans and Kirk both came away with 31 total points. Evans had double-digit performances against Rivercrest and Bald Knob, and added six more against the Lady Redskins. Kirk led in the finals with 16 points, with 10 and five point performances in the first two games respectively. Shinn only managed four points in the first round, but led against Bald Knob with 15 points, including a three-for-five performance from the three-point line. She finished with nine points in the finals.
The Lady ‘Rabbits easily handled Rivercrest, the No. 4 seed from the 4A-3 conference in their first round game Wednesday night.
The win officially qualified the Lady Jackrabbits for the 4A State Playoffs, and pitted them against 4A-2 Conference rival Bald Knob in Friday afternoon’s semifinal game. Lonoke had split regular season games with the Lady Bulldogs during their run for the league title, but even more would be at stake in this one.
The Lady ‘Rabbits would prevail to advance to the finals, where they would face one of their strongest opponents all season in the host team.
The three wins throughout the tournament gives the Lady Jackrabbits a season record of 24-8.