Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

SPORTS>>LADY JACKRABBITS REACH FINALS AGAIN

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

The 2006-07 Lonoke girls’ season ended in bitter disappointment when several late calls went against the Lady Jackrabbits and the Whitney Zachariason-led CAC Lady Mustangs held on for a 50-45 win in the 4A state championship game.

Lonoke returned to the title game in 2008, and the result was the same again: So close, but no championship.

Huntsville held on to win 44-40 in a clean, hard-fought game to earn the 4A state title, and made third-year Lady Jackrabbits coach Nathan Morris 0-2 in his young career at the big dance.

There were many interesting dynamics to last year’s Lonoke squad. The team was young overall, with guard Hayley O’Cain and post Carrie Mitchell the only two seniors on the team. Both started for Morris, along with sophomores Michaela Brown, Asiah Scribner and Ashleigh Himstedt.

Though technically sophomores, Brown and Scribner had plenty of court experience after starting on the ’06-’07 team as freshmen. They joined seniors Jenny Evans, Calisha Kirk and Kristy Shinn that year for the first of two trips to the state finals for Morris and crew.

Scribner proved to be Lonoke’s most consistent scorer throughout the season, althoughsophomore Himstedt and O’Cain each had some hot-hand nights of their own along the way.

Slow-paced defensive struggles earned the Lady Jackrabbits the No. 2 seed out of the 2-4A Conference before they avenged their only regular-season loss of the year against Bald Knob in the district finals. That put them in the state tournament as a No. 1 seed.

They started out with a 56-49 win in double overtime over Prairie Grove in the quarterfinal round, and then handed the host Lady Bobcats their first-ever loss in their home gym in the semifinal round to earn their second straight trip to the finals.

The Lady Jackrabbits came into the contest intent on stopping Huntsville’s ability to score outside, which they did by allowing only a pair of three-point baskets, but Huntsville sophomore post Martha Robinson sparked a rally late to help erase a 10-point Lonoke lead.

Huntsville’s plan was just the opposite, limiting the Lady ’Rabbits to only 10 inside points from posts Scribner and Mitchell.

The Lady Eagles added to their defensive heat in the second half by adding pressure to O’Cain, Lonoke’s top outside scoring threat.

Scribner scored late on a lay-up to cut Huntsville’s lead to 42-38 with only 14 seconds remaining, but the Lady Eagles tacked on a pair of free throws to hold on.

An interesting side note to the game was the gap between 47-year veteran Huntsville coach Charles Berry and Lady ’Rab’s coach Morris, who wasn’t even born until the second decade of Berry’s career.

“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. “I don’t think we disappointed.”