Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

SPORTS >> Searcy learns from narrow loss to NLR

Searcy junior Jamal Jones tries to block a North Little Rock shot on Saturday.

Leader sportswriter

Searcy took a home loss in the championship of the Bank Classic on Saturday, but it could also be the game that puts the Lions on the map.

North Little Rock made a last-second three-pointer in overtime to clinch a 64-63 victory over the Lions in the Bank Classic finals at the Jungle on Searcy’s campus.

Junior forward Jamal Jones made a pair of free throws in the final 8 seconds to give Searcy the lead and the Lions were intent on sealing off the Charging Wildcats’ standout guard Reggie Bryles on North Little Rock’s possession.

The Lions accomplished that, but Bryles was able to pass and get the assist on the last-second, winning three-pointer.

The Lions won their semifinal game against Bryant handily on Thursday and were up by eight points in the title game against NLR on Saturday. For Searcy coach Jim Summers, now in his third year, the season ahead in the tough 6A-East Conference does not look as dreary as it has turned out in the past.

“We don’t want to be happy with a loss,” Summers said. “But now we have an idea of what it takes to get better. We have a measuring stick now, and we know we’re right there and can compete. But we’re not by any means as good as we’re going to be.”

Jones and teammate Chris Blakely led the Lions with 16 points each. It was a season high for Blakely, who may not garner as much attention as the Division I prospect Jones, but contributes just as much, Summers said.

“Chris is that guy that you don’t notice a whole lot,” Summers said. “But you look in the book at the end of the game and he has 12 points and 10 rebounds. He always stays right there around a double double. He’s the best rebounding 6-2 post I’ve seen; he just has a nose for it.

“He’s also been working on his outside game. He flies under the radar a lot, but he’s always in there playing hard.”

The Lions built an 8-point lead in the third quarter, but Jones had to come out for a cut on his face, and North Little Rock rallied.

The Wildcats evened the score and continued their run in the fourth quarter on their way to a six-point advantage before Searcy scored again.

Junior guard Casey Wilmath added 13 points for Searcy. Chris Campbell led North Little Rock with 17 points.

The Lions, 3-3, have beaten Benton and Bryant and had close calls against 7A teams Cabot and North Little Rock. Entering 6A-East play with that kind of momentum has Summers confident, but not too confident.

“It’s fun to go out and play the best teams in the state night in and night out,” Summers said. “It’s not always a good result maybe, but now I think we have a chance to compete every night. It’s a gauntlet, but if we go through healthy and injury free, we have a chance.”

In girls action, Searcy got a championship victory and a conference sneak preview.

The Lady Lions beat the Jonesboro Lady Hurricane 43-24 to claim their second straight Bank Classic championship at the Jungle.

The Lady Hurricane, who along with the Lady Lions play in the 6A-East Conference and are under first-year coach Jodi Davis, jumped to an 8-0 lead early before the Lady Lions rallied for a 19-14 halftime lead and held Jonesboro scoreless in the third quarter.

Searcy (6-0) beat Fair 63-24 in the first round Tuesday and beat Wynne 66-49 in Friday’s semifinal to earn a shot at its second Bank Classic trophy.

“I thought Wynne was a very athletic team, and we were scared with Jonesboro coming in,” Searcy coach Michelle Birdsong said.

“But we did some adjusting with our defense, and the kids adjusted well to that. We got down early, but we kept fighting.”

Senior post player Lauren Harrison led Searcy with 15 points. Junior Elliot Scarborough added 12, while Kristen Celsor finished with 10 points.

“We’ve gotten our team chemistry better,” Birdsong said. “And we’ve done a good job on the offensive boards. We have about 15 a game, and if we continue to do that and continue to develop patience, we can improve some more.”

Lady Hurricane standout Whitney Keith led Jonesboro early with six of the team’s first eight points and was also responsible for guarding Searcy senior forward Kristen Celsor.

Keith’s aggressive pressure led to three fouls before the end of the half and forced her to sit out the first part of the third quarter. The Lady Lions took advantage by outscoring the Lady Hurricane 13-0 in the third.

Once Keith re-entered the game, she was held scoreless for the remainder.

“I think they will do a lot better whenever we go to their place,” Birdsong said of Jonesboro.

“It will be much tougher games once conference starts. They have a new coach, and I think they’re still trying to find an identity.”