SPORTS >>Second time no charm for Lonoke girls
Leader sports editor
HOT SPRINGS – Two trips to Hot Springs have yielded no hardware, just heartache, for the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits.
For the second year in a row, head coach Nathan Morris must cling to the prospects of a bright future as his consolation prize after Huntsville held on for a 44-40 win to capture the 4A championship on Thursday evening at the Summit Arena.
Missed free throws, missed three-pointers and missed lay-ups, combined with the potent inside play of Huntsville sophomore Martha Robinson, resulted in Lonoke’s second narrow loss in as many years in the title tilt. Last season, the Lady ’Rabbits let a 10-point lead slip away in the final period in falling to Central Arkansas Christian.
“Coach Berry and I have actually been hanging out in the hotel the last couple of days, and he kept telling me how good a game it was going to be,” Morris said of Huntsville head coach Charles Berry, who just concluded his 47th year in coaching and won his second state title. “I don’t think we disappointed.”
Lonoke, a team built around its defense, played about as well as it could in slowing down a high-powered Lady Eagles team, which won its final 34 games of the year. The plan was to take away Huntsville’s perimeter game after the Lady Eagles had poured in 21 three-pointers in its previous two state tournament games.
They did just that, limiting Huntsville to just two three-pointers and only eight attempts.
“We were able to impose our defensive game plan on them for a while,” Morris said. “We didgive up some things inside. But we also didn’t give up some things they normally get. They’re a great three-point shooting team and we held them to two.
We held a high-scoring team to 44 points. So, yeah, I thought that part of our game plan was successful.”
But the Lady ’Rabbits failed to account for sophomore post player Martha Robinson, who made 7-of-9 shots for a game-high 17 points, and pulled own 10 rebounds. Jo Beth Williams was the other thorn in the Lady ’Rabbits’ sides, scoring 15 points.
Williams and Robinson accounted for all but 12 of the Lady Eagles’ points. Huntsville outscored Lonoke 13-2 over an 8-minute span late in the third period and into the final period to secure the win.
“Lonoke’s a fine basketball team,” Berry said. “They sure have a lot of quickness on the perimeter and that bothered us some.”
Ironically, it was a three-pointer from Johnna Tenberge in the final minute of the third period that allowed the Lady Eagles to escape their final deficit of the contest. Her bucket tied the game at 32 heading into the final period.
Meanwhile, Huntsville was executing its own defensive plan to perfection, taking away Lonoke’s inside presence by limiting Asiah Scribner and Carrie Mitchell to 12 shots combined. Scribner finished with six points, Mitchell four.
“Our plan was to try to keep the ball away from their big people,” Berry said. “We weren’t going to let [Scribner] have the ball on the high post. We knew they would both give us problems.”
The easy misses that had plagued Lonoke (26-9) the first three periods continued early in the fourth quarter, when sophomore Asiah Scribner missed a lay-up after a nifty weave through the lane 53 seconds in. A minute later, Robinson was collecting the first of two rebound baskets that gave Huntsville the lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“I think at one point in the first half, my assistant coach said that’s six chip shots, six point blank we missed,” Morris said.
“You can’t play a team as good as Huntsville in a state championship game and miss that many of those. You have to make that up in other areas and we just didn’t make enough of those up.”
They didn’t make it up at the line, where they went 3-of-10, or from beyond the arc, where the ’Lady Rabbits connected on only 3-of-14. Senior Hayley O’Cain made two early threes, and had a couple of others rim out in the first half. In the second half, the looks were much more difficult.
“Their defense was pretty tough because they were coming off the screens and were just all over me,” O’Cain said. “When I was open, I took the shots. They just didn’t fall.”
Robinson’s lay-up with 2:25 left in the third quarter allowed Huntsville to close Lonoke’s biggest lead of five points to two, and two free throws by Morgan Myrick tied it 17 seconds later. Lonoke’s Michaela Brown and Tenberge than traded three-pointers to knot the score at the end of three.
“They got an easy stickback that we didn’t get the rebound on,” Morris said of Robinson’s offensive rebounds in the final period. “That was critical. We had a team down, trying to step on their throats. They got a couple of looks late in the third that tied it back up, and they were able to get back in it and stay in control in the fourth quarter.”
Trailing 37-34 with less than two minutes remaining, Lonoke got three chances to narrow the deficit or tie. Freshman Cara Neighbors, who led Lonoke with nine points, found herself wide open after a drive along the right baseline, but her shot came up short.
She missed a putback attempt, and Michaela Brown’s chance at a game-tying three was off the mark. Myrick hit one of two free throws with 1:17 to extend the Huntsville lead to 40-34.
Scribner scored on an end-to-end lay-up with 14 seconds to cut the lead to 42-38, but Johnson hit a pair of free throws to all but seal it with 13 seconds left.
Morris emphasized that experience was not a factor in the contest, despite the fact that Huntsville featured three seniors and two juniors in their rotation while Lonoke played three sophomores and a freshman.
“I disagree with that,” he insisted. “We had two seniors that have been on this floor before. And we had two sophomores that were on this floor as ninth graders last year. Huntsville is an experienced team, but I don’t think our lack of experience had much to do with it.”
So Morris is left with another young, but experienced team that loses only two seniors in O’Cain and Mitchell. With a dandy freshman in Neighbors, and with Scribner, Brown and Himstedt returning, Lonoke should be a serious contender next year.
Morris was willing to hold on to that, but only to a point.
“We’ve got a good young group, so we can look forward,” he said. “But at the same time, I’ve got a couple of seniors on this team and I’m not looking forward tonight. That would be unfair to Hayley and Carrie.
“But, yeah, I think the future looks bright. We moved up a ninth grader that got some experience this year in the state tournament. And we’ve got two two-time starters in the state championship game.”
Huntsville 11 9 12 12 -44
Lonoke 10 13 9 8- 40
Kaylee Johnson 0-1 3-4 2, Jo Beth Williams 6-16 2-5 0, Morgan Myrick 1-1 4-6 3, Martha Robinson 7-9 3-4 10, Johnna Tenberge 1-3 0-0 2, Leah Cleaver 0-1 0-0 0, Brittney McCone 0-1 0-0 0, Nicole Gurley 0-2 0-0 5
3-pt FG: 2-8 (Williams 1, Tenberge 1); Rebounds: 27 (Robinson 10, Gurley 5); Assists: 2 (Johnson); Steals: 4 (Myrick 2)
Michaela Brown 2-6 2-4 4, Ashleigh Himstedt 4-8 0-2 1, Hayley O’Cain 2-10 0-0 4, Asiah Scribner 3-8 0-0 7, Carrie Mitchell 2-4 0-2 5, Lauren Harper 0-1 0-0 0, Cara Neighbors 4-8 1-2 3
3-pt FG: 3-14 (O’Cain 2, Brown 1); Rebounds: 27 (Scribner 7, Mitchell 5); Assists: 4 (Brown, Himstedt, Harper, Neighbors); Steals: 7 (Brown 4)