Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

SPORTS >>Freshman leads Lady ’Rabs to finals

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

DUMAS — Lonoke had a rout going early on, but the Dumas Ladycats did not go down without a fight in the fourth quarter.
But the Lady Jackrabbits (26-8) held on behind freshman Cara Neighbors’ 21 points to secure their second straight berth in the 4A state championship game with a 38-31 win over host Dumas on Saturday.

The win puts them in the state finals on Thursday against the Huntsville Lady Eagles, who sent defending champs CAC packing earlier in the day on Saturday with a big 55-49 win, meaning there was going to be a new state champ regardless of who won the semis finale between Lonoke and Dumas.

The Lady ’Rabs’ looked like they might cruise through the semifinal round, holding Dumas scoreless for the first 9:45 of play. The Ladycats struggled to find looks until 6:15 remaining in the first half, when LaQualia Chatman finally got the first field goal of the night for the hosts.

Up to that point, Lonoke had dominated the inside, rushing out to a 15-0 lead. The Ladycats narrowed the gap to a 21-10 advantage for Lonoke at the half, but their real rally didn’t come until the final frame, when they cut a 30-17 lead to start the fourth quarter down toa narrow four-point advantage for the Lady Jackrabbits with only 36 seconds remaining.

A three-pointer by Dumas sophomore Laneshia Larkins cut Lonoke’s lead to 35-31 in the final minute, but she came up short on two later attempts, while Neighbors and Asiah Scribner padded the Lady ’Rabs’ lead with free throws during their final two possessions.

“We limited their shots early,” Lady ’Rabbits coach Nathan Morris said. “Ashleigh Himstedt did a great job defensively tonight. We did a good job early on of getting rebounds and setting up our shots. We’re just enjoying tonight, and we will get down to the business of Huntsville sometime tomorrow.”

Himstedt had the task of taking on dynamic Ladycat shooter Whitney Hameth, who had lit up the Lady Lizards of Dardanelle the night before with a 42-point performance, but the Lonoke sophomore kept her out of the lanes most of the night. Hameth found her way to the basket only once in the first half, and scored her other three baskets during the second half.

The Lady ‘Rabbit posts dominated the first eight minutes of play. Sophomore Scribner and senior post Carrie Mitchell combined for 10 points during the shut-out frame, while point guard Michaela Brown added a basket midway through the period, and Neighbors put in two free throws to give Lonoke a 14-0 lead.

The looks on the low block didn’t come as easy for Lonoke in the second quarter, but Himstedt stepped up offensively with two big goals at the 5:34 mark and 4:03 mark. Brown assisted her first goal, and Neighbors set her on the second one to give Lonoke a 19-4 advantage.

Larkins closed the tough first half for Dumas strong, scoring two baskets in the final three minutes to make the halftime margin 21-10.

The Ladycats stepped up their game to start the second half. Hameth made her second basket of the night with a bank shot at the 7:12 mark, and a third-try putback by post player Shan Chatman with 6:19 left in the third quarter closed Lonoke’s advantage to 21-14.

The Lady Jackrabbits were held scoreless until Himstedt came through with the first second-half points for Lonoke when she drove the paint for a jumper at the 3:03 mark.

Neighbors then rebounded a Dumas miss and took it all the way for a basket and foul. She hit the free throw, which gave the Lady Jackrabbits a 26-14 lead. She followed that with a steal and a basket on the inbounds play to give the Lady ’Rabbits their largest lead of the second half at 28-14. A three-pointer by Larkins cut it to 11, and a basket for Scribner assisted by a lob from Himstedt put the score at 30-17 to start the final quarter.

“They did a better job of getting through our screens in the second half,” Morris said. “They defended better all around. Plus, Michaela is the type of player that, if she sees something in the defense she doesn’t like, she won’t run certain plays.”
Scribner added 10 points, while Himstedt and Mitchell each added six. Hameth’s 11 points led Dumas, with eight points from Chatman. The Ladycats finished with a final record of 27-5.