Leader Blues

Friday, January 02, 2009

SPORTS>>Lady Jackrabbits win title

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

For head coach Nathan Morris, Lonoke’s 53-44 win over previously unbeaten Star City meant more than a mere championship trophy to add to the display case.

It was, he termed it, a “hat hanger.”

“That’s one we can hang our hats on later in the year,” Morris said shortly after his Lady Jackrabbits improved to 10-3 in the finals of the Beebe Christmas Classic at Badger Arena on Tuesday night. “I told them at halftime, the only way we’re going to win that game is if we ground it out. That’s what we did.”

In a game that featured two ferocious presses and four turnovers by each team before a shot was even attempted, Lonoke finally came to life at just about the point Star City (14-1) was threatening to run away with it.

The Lady Bulldogs extended their 8-point halftime lead to 10 at the 7:40 mark of the third period, but Erin Shoemaker hit a three-pointer to spark a 17-7 run. Two consecutive rebound baskets by Asiah Scribner finally knotted the game at 32 with 3:38 left in the third period. Scribner, who missed much of the first half with foul trouble and scored 15 of her game-high 20 points after intermission, gave Lonoke its first lead since 3-0 on another rebound basket with 46 seconds left in the period.

Lonoke never trailed again. Turning up the defensive pressure after intermission, the Lady Jackrabbits limited Star City tofive second-half field goals and forced 10 turnovers. The Lady ’Rabbits, meanwhile, cut their 13 first-half turnovers down to seven in the second half.

“Their pressure bothered us at times,” Morris admitted. “We just didn’t let it bother us at the critical times. And we finally got a few lay-ups out of it. Then we came back and played good defense at the other end.”

Three free throws by Emily Shoemaker and a basket inside by Scribner allowed Lonoke to push the lead to 45-39 midway through the final period. Cara Neighbors, who spent much of the night on the bench in foul trouble and scored only six points, hit a critical bucket on a baseline drive to keep the lead at six with 3:02 left.

Star City narrowed the lead to four again on three free throws at the 1:30 mark, but Michaela Brown secured the win with a baseline drive with 56 seconds and a free throw with 19 seconds.

Both offenses wilted early in the face of unrelenting pressure defense. Neither team could get a shot off over the first two minutes, 10 seconds. Each team turned it over four times in that span.

Ashleigh Himstedt hit a three-pointer to open the scoring and give Lonoke its only lead in the first half. Star City ripped off 10 straight points, but Brown scored off a drive through the lane and Emily Shoemaker and Neighbors both got rebound baskets.

Scribner returned to the lineup with 4:30 left in the half after sitting most of the first quarter and scored Lonoke’s final five points of the half, but the Lady Bulldogs went to the locker room with a 25-17 lead.

“We weren’t sending anybody to the middle,” Morris said of Lonoke’s troubles against Star City’s press. “We rely so much on our three guards to handle the ball that when one of them was out, we went haywire. That’s as much my fault as theirs.

“We just think they’re superwomen and they’re not. They have to have help too. That’s the best press we’ll see all year. That should help us down the road.”

Despite her limited court time, Scribner scored 20 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked a pair of shots. She was the only Lady Jackrabbit in double figures, but five others scored five or more points.

“We’ve got so many weapons this year that it just takes somebody to step up and for each person to do their little part,” Morris said. “We kept our cool. Our kids have been there before. We’re juniors, a couple of seniors and one pretty good sophomore, and Star City is a lot of sophomores and juniors. Our kids have been in that spot before and showed that and battled back tonight.”

Brown had nine points and six big steals. Emily Shoemaker added seven points and seven rebounds. Neighbors and Himstedt each had six points, while Neighbors also grabbed seven rebounds. Lonoke dominated the glass in the second half to finish with a 37-29 edge.

“I’m very impressed with what the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits did against a 14-0 team that has some very good wins,” Morris said. “I’m so proud of them.”