Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

SPORTS >>’Rabbits avenge early loss to SHS

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Sometimes when you play not to lose, you don’t.

Lonoke survived a brutal battle in the middle of a brutal 2-4A Conference race on Tuesday night, holding on for a 54-50 win over Stuttgart.

The victory avenged one of the Jackrabbits’ two conference losses, and improved them to 6-2, right in the thick of a bunched-up conference.

“Sometimes you have to play not to lose and win games like that,” Lonoke head coach Wes Swift said. “Sometimes you have to find a way to win one like that to get confidence to start believing you can win close games.

“[The Ricebirds] are a very good ball team. They’re playing as good as they’ve played all year. And we’re not playing very good right now.”

This one appeared to be in the bag several times down the stretch, but the improved Ricebirds would not go away. Lonoke led 46-41 with just over three minutes remaining, but Stuttgart stormed back to tie it with 2:31 left.

Tyrone Dobbins grabbed an offensive rebound and got a stickback with 2:05 left, then knocked down a pair of free throws 15 seconds later to put Lonoke back in front 50-46 with 1:46 left in the contest.

Two free throws by Bradley Spencer with 49 seconds left had the Jackrabbits in front by five again, but Stuttgart’s Philip Sykes, who led all scorers with 21 points, went end to end for a layup and a free throw.

Though Sykes missed the charity try, Lonoke turned it over with 19 seconds, and committed a foul on the play. The Ricebirds made one of two free throws to close the gap to 52-50, then grabbed the offensive rebound with 16.5 seconds left. The Ricebirds called timeout to set up a play, but a travel call with 10.2 seconds left gave the ball back to Lonoke.

Spencer made two more free throws with two seconds left to ice it.

“In the two conference games we lost at Stuttgart and at Newport, we didn’t get stops late,” Swift said. “I told them, let’s get a stop. We finally got one when we needed one. And Bradley Spencer, our senior, stepped up and went 4-of-4 down the stretch.”

In fact, Lonoke was gold from the line all night, making 16-of-20, including 9-of-10 in the final period.

Stuttgart fell to 6-3 with the loss, still right in the thick of the five-team race which includes first-place Marianna, Mountain View, Newport and Lonoke.

Lonoke began the game pounding the ball inside to freshman Myles Taylor, who collected six of his 10 points over the first four minutes of the opening period.

After an early second-half basket on a nice feed from Spencer, Taylor hardly touched the ball at all.

“I don’t know if it was a matter of we could not get him the ball, or that we just quit trying,” Swift said. “In the first quarter, we had good ball reversal. Then we went back to one-on-one play.”

Other than a 2-0 lead off the opening tip and a 4-3 lead at the 5:40 mark of the opening period, the Ricebirds trailed throughout much of the game. They took their next lead at 35-34 on putback basket with 4:46 left in the third period. The Ricebirds led 39-36 before Tony Jackson’s three from the right wing sent the two teams into the final period tied at 39.

Lonoke never trailed again.

The Jackrabbits won despite making only 2-of-17 from beyond the arc. Stuttgart missed all eight of their three-point attempts.

Lonoke featured fine scoring balance with five players scoring eight or more points. Dobbins led the way with 12. Michael Howard added 11, Taylor 10, Spencer nine and Clarence Harris eight. Taylor had six rebounds and a block.

“There are nights when the offense is going to struggle,” Swift said. “But you can get big stops when you need them. I thought we did that tonight. Our defense played poorly in man. When we switched to the zone in the fourth quarter, it really slowed them down.

“But we’re good enough we should have been able to guard them in man.”

Lonoke hosts Heber Springs on Friday.

Lonoke girls 40, Stuttgart 24

For the second straight game, the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits put on a first-half defensive clinic.

Just four days after handing Bald Knob its first loss of the season with a stifling defensive performance, Lonoke limited Stuttgart to 1-of-20 shooting in the first half and ran off with a 40-24 win.

“Our guards do such a tremendous job staying with the other teams’ guards,” said Lonoke head coach Nathan Morris, whose Lady ’Rabbits improved to 8-0 in the 2-4A and 15-4 overall. “We’re not trying to score 60 points. Our goal is to keep people in the 30s. If we can do that we can win.”

Lonoke has surrendered just 51 points over its past two games.

Still, Morris wasn’t completely happy with the victory, primarily because the Lady Ricebirds were able to get their offense going after intermission. After holding Stuttgart to five points at halftime, Lonoke allowed the Lady Ricebirds to score 11 points in the third quarter, as well as the final eight points of the game.

“We’re always happy with a win, make no mistake about that,” Morris said. “But I thought we went a little flat offensively and defensively. We need to finish every game out. There are definitely some things we can work on.”

Lonoke got a big night from Asiah Scribner, who posted an impressive line. The sophomore post player scored 13 points, grabbed eight rebounds and three steals, handed out five assists and blocked four shots.

“She missed a couple of chip shots or she could have had 20,” Morris said. “She’s only going to get better. She works tremendously hard.”

Scribner and Carrie Mitchell played the high-low to near perfection at times on Tuesday. Mitchell finished with nine points and six boards. She also had three blocks.

“They’re two of our better players,” Morris said. “We try to get the high low working with them every time.”

Mitchell and Scribner scored the first nine points for Lonoke, and Hayley O’Cain’s three pointer to close out the first period gave Lonoke a 12-2 lead. It was 22-5 at the half. The lead grew to as much as 38-12 before Stuttgart closed out the game by scoring 12 of the final 14 points.

Ashley Himstedt scored eight points and dished out three assists. Her defense, along with that of sophomore guard Michaela Brown, kept Stuttgart out of sync all night.

“Ashley is probably our best on-ball defender,” Morris said. “And Michaela’s best days are ahead of her.”

O’Cain added six points on a pair of three pointers.

Lonoke finished 17-of-38 from the field, while Stuttgart warmed up to make 10-of-42.

The Lady Jackrabbits host Heber Springs on Friday.