Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

SPORTS>>Abundant Life routs Mt. Home

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Abundant Life head coach Tim Ballard is the first to admit that his team’s strength is, first and foremost, its offensive prowess.

But he wasn’t complaining after the Owls turned in a stellar defensive effort on Monday night in beating 6A Mountain Home, 48-31, in the first round of the Searcy Bank Classic at Searcy High School.

The Owls, who struggled offensively against the Bombers, snagged 15 steals and mostly thwarted Mountain Home’s offensive game plan.

“We chart deflections, and we had 10 touches on passes in the first half,” Ballard said. “Those teams that try to move the ball around fast, we try to disrupt them. I thought we kind of kept them from getting into any type of rhythm.”

The Owls will take on Cabot Thursday night in the tourney semifinals. So far this season, Class 2A Abundant Life has handed losses to 5A Oak Grove and 6A Mountain Home.

“We’re here (at this tournament) just because we want to be great in our conference and region,” Ballard said. “We pulled out of a smaller tournament and I told (the Bank Classic) tournament director, when he askedme, that we’ll come get our heads handed to us three games in a row because there’s only so much you can recreate in practice in terms of physical play. I’m sure we have a head-thumping coming, but we want to see exactly where our game is.”

Against Mountain Home, their game was almost all on the defensive end, though post player Garrett Southerland knocked down three three-pointers in a game in which the Owls shot just 34 percent.

“Garrett is the best shooter on the team,” Ballard said. “A lot of people forget about our 6-5 awkward guy out top. But he will bury it if you leave him alone. He shoots 75 percent from three in practice.

“With us, you think about Dane, you think about Steele, but if you forget about (Southerland), he’ll make you pay.”

George Herring, Michael Stramiello, Terrell Ghant, Michael Steele and Dane Lottner ball-hawked the Bombers furiously.

Stramiello had four steals, while Lottner and Ghant grabbed three each.

Lottner, who led Abundant Life with 14 points, didn’t get on the board until he hit a turnaround 8-footer in the lane with two minutes left in the opening period to give the Owls a 12-7 lead. Mountain Home led only one time in the game, 2-0, a minute and 15 seconds in. The Owls cashed six first-quarter steals into a 15-9 lead after one.

Three consecutive buckets by Lottner to close out the half, including a fine baseline drive with three seconds left, propelled the Owls to a 24-16 halftime lead.

The Bombers misfired repeatedly from long range, though one of their two threes (out of 22 attempts) cut the lead to five early in the second half. Southerland answered with his third three of the game, and Herring and Steele added threes to push the Owls’ lead to 39-23 after three periods. Mountain Home was never closer than 14 after that.

“We didn’t shoot it real well,” Ballard said. “But our guys have to adjust to how physical the play in 6 and 7A is. It took us a while to get adjusted. We thought we’d score more points on our end. But it worked out where we had a big enough lead to kind of slow it down a little.”

The pace of the game was just what Abundant Life likes as Mountain Home launched a lot of quick, mostly errant shots, allowing the Owls to get in transition. While Mountain Home was struggling to a woeful 12-of-47 performance from the field, the Owls hit 6 of 16 from beyond the arc to finish 15 of 44 overall. They also outrebounded the Bombers in the second half to finish with a nine carom advantage.

“(Herring) led us in rebounding,” Ballard said of his senior guard. “He’s playing with a lot of heart.”

Herring had eight boards to go along with seven points, two steals and an assist. Southerland had nine points and two blocks, while Steele added eight points, five rebounds and two steals. Ghant dished out five assists. Stramiello had six points to go along with two assists and two steals.