Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

SPORTS >>Lady Rabbits hold on

Leader sportswriter

BALD KNOB — It was everything you would expect from a game that featured 13 lead changes.

Lonoke took the lead for the final time with 1:33 left in the third quarter to hand the Lady Bulldogs of Bald Knob only their second loss of the season, taking the 4A-East District title on Saturday with a 40-33 win in the championship finals.

The win gave the Lady Jackrabbits the No. 1 seed out of the East, and a first-round bye during this week’s 4A state playoffs in Dumas. Lonoke will play the winner of today’s meeting between Prairie Grove and Fordyce in the quarterfinals round on Friday at 4 p.m.

It was a reversal of fortune between the two camps, after Bald Knob held the Lady ’Rabbits to a single goal in the fourth quarter the previous week to take the district crown. This time, the Lady Bulldogs struggled to find a look in the final period, as Lonoke slowly extended its lead with strong play by point guard Michaela Brown.

Not only did the sophomore overcome the BK press, she also accounted for much of the Lady ’Rabs’ points down the stretch. Brown hit 6-of-10 attempts from the foul line from the 3:36 mark on, allowing Lonoke to stretch a 33-29 lead toseven by the final buzzer.

“We hang our hat on a lot of the things that Michaela can do,” Lady Jackrabbits coach Nathan Morris said. “She can come up big when the situation calls for it. Whether it’s getting the ball up court, chasing down loose balls, or at the free-throw line, we depend on her to step up and do those big things.”

The Lady Bulldogs found themselves in an unfamiliar position on Saturday, especially in the second half. Foul trouble for All-Conference junior guard Phagen Altom and senior post Khali Garner had them on alert for most of the game, but the final nail in the coffin arrived with 2:32 left to play, when two-guard Chelsea Kyle went down with a high-ankle sprain after chasing down a loose ball.

Not only was it a vital loss for Bald Knob, it also resulted in a turnover, with the Lady Jackrabbits holding a 34-29 lead.

Free throw shooting ended up critical for both teams in the fourth quarter. In fact, Altom’s three pointer with six seconds left to play was the only field goal for either team in the period. It was not in time for the Lady Bulldogs to build any momentum, however, as Brown and Asheigh Himstedt hit two free throws each to extend a 34-30 lead with 47 seconds remaining to a 38-30 lead with just over 20 seconds left.

“Our kids can play tenacious defense,” Morris said. “I told the girls how they beat us in spots during the fourth quarter when we played last week for the district title, and that we didn’t want that to happen this time out. We blocked out better, and we made less shots available to them.”

Bald Knob held a slight lead through most of the first quarter until a pair of free throws by Brown tied the game at 6-6 at the 1:54 mark. Altom broke that tie just before the buzzer with foul shots to give the Lady Bulldogs an 8-6 lead.

Freshman Cara Neighbors tied it once again to start the second quarter with two shots at the stripe, but Altom’s 15-footer at the six-minute mark gave the lead back to Bald Knob once again. Garner added a free throw for the Lady ’Dogs on their next trip before Neighbors hit a three pointer with 4:21 left in the half that tied the score at 11-11.

Asiah Scribner gave Lonoke its first lead of the game at the 3:49 mark with two free throws, but Kyle gave the lead back to the Lady Bulldogs when she drew a foul from Neighbors while attempting a three-point shot. That sent her to the line for three free throw attempts, and she hit every one to give Bald Knob a 14-13 lead with 2:57 left.

Baskets by Brown and Neighbors put the Lady Jack-rabbits up by three at 17-14, followed by free throws by Altom that cut the lead to one, and foul shots by Neighbors after that to extend it back to three. Garner got the last word for Bald Knob before the half with a putback of her own miss to set the halftime score at 19-18.

Neighbors led the Lady Jackrabbits with 13 points and four rebounds, including 6-for-6 at the free-throw line. Brown added 10 points, six rebounds, four steals, and went 8-of-12 from the foul line. For Bald Knob, Altom led with 12 points.

Lonoke won the rebounding battle 25-16, and had 10 turnovers compared to 11 for Bald Knob.

The Lady Jackrabbits im-proved to 24-8 on the season, and took their second straight 4A East Regional championship. Bald Knob fell to 28-2 on the season.