SPORTS>>Lady Lions cruise past Fair
Leader sports editor
When Shantel Neely went down with a season-ending ACL injury a couple of weeks ago against Pine Bluff, things might have gone south for the Searcy Lady Lions.
She was, after all, their floor general and the only senior among their starters. But, as much as they miss her, they seem to be thriving without her, at least in the first three games since she went down.
The Lady Lions showed impressive teamwork and pinpoint passing in easily handling J.A. Fair, 68-41, on Monday night in the opening round of the Searcy Bank Classic at the Lions’ Den. Of their 26 field goals, 17 were assisted and many came off fast-break buckets and dump downs to post player Lauren Harrison, who led the Lady Lions with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Searcy will take on Wynne in the second round on Thursday night at 8:30.
“When Shantel went down, we had to bring in some sophomores,” said Searcy head coach Michelle Birdsong, whose team improved to 5-2. “With Shantel, we’d throw her the ball and get out of her way. But we’re passing the ball a lot more. That takes a lot of pressure off not having just one player to do that because we don’t have another Shantel on our team.”
The Lady Lions were also dynamos on the defensive end, snagging 14 steals and forcing the Lady War Eagles into 21 turnovers.
Kristen Celsor, who scored six points, had four steals and a block. Harrison and Caleigh Woodruff each had three steals and Searcy cashed many of those into easy transition baskets.
“I tell you what, we’re getting better every game,” Birdsong said. “They’re fun to watch. I’d say it’s not typical of our teams, becausenormally we come down and pass the ball twice and shoot it. But there was one time tonight when we passed it about 15 times. But then we get a shot inside.”
Though the Lady Lions were playing a lot of sophomores, they looked like veterans who knew exactly where their teammates were going to be at all times. Elliott Scarbrough, in particular, delivered some nifty passes and led the way with five assists.
She also scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Another sophomore, Lindsey Hanshew, ran the point and handed out four assists while scoring 10 points. Classmate Chelsey Butler came off the bench to deliver eight points, three rebounds, two steals, a block and an assist.
Fair’s only weapon was a dynamic one in senior guard Al’Shley Jones, whose range on the court seemed limitless. She hit three three-pointers from deep over the first four minutes of the game and had five overall in leading the way with 22 points. The Lady War Eagles relied almost exclusively on long-range shooting, launching 35 shots from beyond the arc and making six of them. The Lady Lions limited Fair to 14 of 51 shooting.
Searcy, meanwhile, shot a solid 26 of 59 from the field, 3 of 11 from deep.
With Jones nailing threes early, Fair actually led this one 9-6 midway through the first period. But Hanshew’s court-length pass to Scarbrough for a breakaway bucket put Searcy up for good as Searcy went on a 12-3 run to close out the opening period with an 18-12 lead.
The Lady Lions extended that run to 23-3 by scoring the first 11 points of the second period. Celsor scored on a fast break and Hanshew nailed a three to make it 29-12. Two buckets inside by Harrison had the rout on at 33-14.
“We haven’t been pressured a whole lot since Shantel went down,” Birdsong said. “But I’m really happy with what I’ve seen.
We’ve been playing three sophomores, three juniors and maybe a senior or two. The first game without (Neely) we weren’t used to it and were getting pressured and didn’t handle it too well.
“Then the next two games we were pressed and did a good job of spreading the floor.”