Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

SPORTS >> Lady ’Rabbits grab district title

Leader sportswriter

BATESVILLE – Want to spice up an already bitter rivalry?

Just put a little hardware on the line.

The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits put up one of their best defensive efforts of the year in a 47-35 win over Bald Knob to capture the 2-4A district championship on Saturday at SHS Southerner gymnasium. The Lady Bulldogs swept Lonoke (21-7) during the regular season, but struggled to find any offense in the third meeting other than senior post Brittany Fulks’ 13-point, nine-rebound performance.

The win gives the Lady Jackrabbits a No. 1 seed heading into this week’s 4A East Region tournament at Heber Springs. Lonoke will take on 3-4A No. 4 seed Trumann today at 4 p.m.

“We have a lot of respect for them, but I guess it’s like the old days of Texas and Arkansas,” said Lady Jackrabbits coach Nathan Morris, of Bald Knob. “We have a genuine dislike for each other because they are our rivals. Not that we’re wishing anything bad on them, we just don’t like them that much. You can tell by all the close games and the fan support that both teams have, and we are consistently playing each other with a lot on the line.”

Lonoke had plenty of offense for the task, just not from any of the usual suspects. It was junior point guard Michaela Brown that led the way for the Lady ’Rabs with 17 points, four assists and three steals, eclipsing the normal point generators of Asiah Scribner, Cara Neighbors and junior guard Ashleigh Himstedt.

The trio still finished with good numbers. Neighbors had nine points, six rebounds and four steals. Scribner had seven points and 10 rebounds, while Himstedt chipped in six points. But perhaps the biggest story in the game was who didn’t produce for Bald Knob.

All-state senior guard Phagen Altom struggled to reach double digits in the second game between the two teams, and fell short on Saturday. All of Altom’s eight points for the game came at the foul line. She was 8 of 10 at the stripe, 0 of 4 from the floor.

“We did a great job of defending,” said Morris. “We didn’t give up any easy baskets. We took them on man-to-man, and did as good a job as we have done all year.”
At 5-6, Brown was one of the smallest players on the court, but played bigger than everyone. Besides her stellar defensive work against Altom, her biggest offensive play of the game with 1:20 left to play killed momentum during Bald Knob’s biggest run when she drove the paint and floated to the basket for a side-arm shot that gave Lonoke a 43-35 lead.

The Lady Bulldogs began to find Fulks inside to start the fourth quarter. She cut a 40-25 lead at the end of the third with two free throws, followed by a three-point play that made it a 10-point game with 7:03 left. A free throw by Scribner at the 4:59 mark served as Lonoke’s only point in the fourth quarter until Brown’s strong move late.

That put momentum back on the Lady ’Rabbits side, as Himstedt caused a steal that was picked up by Neighbors on the ensuing BK possession. She converted for two, and Erin Shoemaker put it away with 47 seconds left following a Lady Bulldog miss with a basket assisted by Brown that made it 45-35. Brown and Scribner each tacked on a free throw from there to set the final score.

“That kid came to play,” Morris said. “On both ends, offense and defense. She kept Altom from getting in the lane too many times and frustrated her. She got to the basket, opened things up. I can’t say enough about her game. Seventeen points, that’s like Asiah or Cara scoring 30.”

Brown wasted no time showing her hand, putting Lonoke up 2-0 on a jumper to start the game, and a three-pointer moments later to up the advantage to five. She struck again at the 1:41 mark with a basket that gave the Lady ’Rabbits a 10-4 lead.

She hit another from long distance to start the second quarter, and senior Lauren Harper backed Brown up at the 5:13 mark with a trey that gave Lonoke a 17-13 lead.

Brown then ended the first half the same way she started it, with a strong move to the basket to give the Lady Jackrabbits a 26-19 lead at intermission.

The Lady Jackrabbits finished 15 of 35 from the floor, and 3 of 6 behind the three-point line. They were 14 of 29 at the foul line, and had nine turnovers. Bald Knob was 9 of 29 from the field and 1 of 11 on three-point attempts and had 14 turnovers for the game.