Leader Blues

Saturday, February 16, 2008

SPORTS >>Lonoke girls reach tournament finals with win

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Despite a shaky third quarter, the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits cruised through their semifinal matchup with Stuttgart on Thursday night at Bulldog Arena in Bald Knob.

Lonoke managed four points in the third quarter, but picked the intensity back up in the fourth quarter when the Lady Ricebirds threatened to make a game of it after trailing 35-13 at the half. The Lady ’Rabbits went on for a 53-35 win, but head coach Nathan Morris says one bad quarter of play is one too many, regardless of the cushion.

“We played pretty well in the first half,” Morris said. “But we had a slip of intensity when we came out for the third quarter. We have to get that back; you can’t have slips like that when it comes tournament time.”

The Lady Jackrabbits have been solid all season, but have suffered on occasion from limited shooters. That appears to be a problem of the past for Lonoke, with the addtion of freshman sensation Cara Neighbors.

Neighbors, appearing in her first varsity contest, made her entry known from the very start. She subbed in for senior guard Hayley O’Cain in the final minute of the first quarter, and got a steal that she took coast-to-coast for a layup. That gave the Lady Jackrabbits a 13-8 lead, but the youngster was only getting warmed up. She led Lonoke with 15 points.

“We feel like Cara can help us out in getting to the basket,” Morris said. “We need her to push the ball and attack zone defenses, and she certainly did that tonight.”

Neighbors started out the second quarter with an inside jumper set up by an assist from sophomore guard Ashleigh Himstedt. She came down with a defensive rebound on the ensuing Stuttgart drive, and then returned the favor to Himstedt.

Himstedt’s layup at the 7:08 mark put Lonoke up 17-8, and a steal by Michaela Brown led to a three-pointer by Neighbors to extend the lead to 20-8.

Stuttgart finally broke a seven-minute scoreless streak with a three-point basket by Sontreka Johnson, but O’Cain answered right back with a three pointer to make it 23-11 with 5:17 left in the first half.

It was Neighbors’ turn once again after that. She drove inside for a field goal and a free throw to give the ’Rabbits a 26-11 lead. Neighbors and O’Cain combined for five more points in the frame, and post players Carrie Mitchell and Asiah Scribner each hit shots from the inside to close out the half.

The highlights were scarce during the third quarter. Stuttgart outscored the Lady Jackrabbits 9-4 during the lackluster frame, enough to avoid the dreaded courtesy clock, and put itself back in the game. Lonoke’s only offense in the frame was generated by shots from Scribner and Mitchell. That led to a 39-22 Lonoke lead heading into the final eight minutes.

Neighbors finished 6-of-8 from the field, and 2-of-3 at the foul line. Asiah Scribner finished 5-of-7 from the floor for 11 points, and had seven rebounds. O’Cain had nine points from a trio of three-point shots, and Mitchell rounded it out with eight points and 10 rebounds.

Lonoke shot 52 percent from the floor (23-44) and 44 percent from the three-point line (4-9). The Lady Jackrabbits were 3-of-6 from the foul line, while the Lady Ricebirds shot 38 percent from the floor and 60 percent from the foul line. Stuttgart finished the season 11-16.

The Lady Jackrabbits improved to 21-7, and move on to face regular season champs Bald Knob in today’s 4A District II finals.The Lady Bulldogs made it to the finals with a close win over Heber Springs in the second semifinal game on Thursday.
Morris said the final game will be tough regardless of the opponent.

“We’ve lost to both of them this year, so we’ll take either one of them. You have to get up for a finals game no matter who you play; hopefully our girls will be ready for whoever we face.”