Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

SPORTS>>LONOKE WINS 4A TITLE

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Jackrabbits took their final loss of the season to 2-4A foe Newport on Jan. 3, and finished the season with 18 straight wins on their way to winning the 4A state title to cap off their historic year with a 30-5 record.

The Wes Swift-led ’Rabbits grabbed No. 1 seeds in their district, regional and state tournaments. There were a number of close calls along the way, including a narrow 40-38 win over Stuttgart in the semifinals of the district tourney, not to mention a come-from-behind win over Newport to begin postseason play in the first round of the district tournament at Bald Knob.
Lonoke downed McGehee 72-63 in the first round of the state tournament in Dumas on Feb. 29 behind Bradley Spencer’s 13-of-15 performance at the free throw line in the fourth quarter. The Jackrabbits beat Arkansas Baptist 55-45 the following night to secure their spot in Hot Springs on March 7 in the 4A state championship game.

They faced a strong 23-8 Hamburg team in Spa City that day in a game in which neither team could ever pull away.

The pre-game talk was how the smaller Jackrabbits would fare on the glass against the physical Lions team, but Spencer answered those doubts by grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds. He also led scoring for Lonoke with 12 points, earning MVP honors.

It wasn’t senior domination for the Jackrabbits on the year. Spencer and Tyrone Dobbins were the only two senior starters, and subs Tony Jackson and Amir Fleming were the remaining upperclassmen on the team.

The lineup was filled with the talented junior duo of Michael Howard and Clarence Harris, along with big freshman post Myles Taylor. Taylor has since departed for the Pulaski County Special School District, but Harris and Howard have returned to lead the defending state champs after a successful football season in ’08.

Post player Jordan Lambert, better known to Lonoke fans as Juice, also returns as a senior this year to the Jackrabbits team, but will most likely be out until very late in the season recovering from a torn ACL suffered at the end of spring.

As impressive as the Jackrabbits were throughout the state tournament and the championship game, they also received a little bit of help from a panic-stricken Hamburg team in the waning moments. The Lions grabbed the lead just before the half, and held on until Howard made a pair of free throws with 3:44 left to play in the third quarter to put Lonoke up 26-25.

The game turned into a back-and-forth affair from there. The Jackrabbits finally grabbed the momentum with 4:07 left when Spencer turned one of his many defensive rebounds into a quick layup and also drew the foul, hitting the free throw to tie the game at 40 all.

Howard put the game away for good with 2:50 left to play, again from the foul line. The Lions had their chances down the stretch, but took rushed shots.

The game was decided when Hamburg shooting ace Javarus Curtis forced up a game-tying shot with 17 seconds left and drew nothing but air. Lonoke took possession and closed it out.

Spencer went on to sign with Division II contender Harding University. The 2007-08 Jackrabbits team was recently honored at the first home game of the year for the ’08-09 Lonoke team, and was presented with their championship rings before the end of the school year in the spring.