Leader Blues

Saturday, December 26, 2009

SPORTS >> Steals help Lady Devils grab trophy

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils now have a first-place trophy from their own holiday tournament to showcase.

But it didn’t come without a major scare from Little Rock McClellan in Jacksonville’s 39-28 victory in the final of the Red Devil Classic at the Devils Den on Tuesday night.

The Lady Lions cut a 10-point lead to four in the final three minutes before Jacksonville senior guard Sherice Randell answered by converting three straight steals into seven points to close out the victory for the Lady Devils (7-4).

It was actually the second scare of the game for Jacksonville. McClellan started the first quarter on a 8-0 run fueled by a pair of three-point baskets, but the Lady Red Devils slowly closed the gap until senior post Jessica Lanier hit an inside jumper to put Jacksonville up 14-13 with 2:53 left in the second quarter.

Jacksonville led the rest of the way.

“We had a shoot-around [Tuesday], and we weren’t as focused as we were yesterday,” Lady Red Devils coach Katrina Mimms said. “And I told them that. I could tell they weren’t as focused, so I knew that was coming. We just had to kind of settle down.”

Lanier took MVP honors for her work during the two-day tournament, but it was Randell’s tough transition play that made the difference late in the final. She converted two baskets and foul shots off steals for six unanswered points, and earned another trip to the free-throw line with a third steal, hitting the first of the two free throws to give Jacksonville an 11-point lead in the final 35 seconds.

Randell led all scorers with 11 points.

“Randell played a side spot on a 1-3-1, and just played it like she should,” Mimms said. “She played it to the side, got some steals, did a good job and finished on the back side of it. So that’s what we’re working on.”

Jacksonville was forced to play for the classic championship without its leading scorer. Freshman point guard Jessica Jackson, 6-2, sustained an ankle injury Monday, which left ball-handling duties to junior Vonsay Evans.

“You go from a 6-2 to a 5-2, so you lose a foot right there,” Mimms said. “Vonsay did a good job. She played hard, and she didn’t turn the ball over very much. We had to step up and adjust off of that.”

Senior forward Apple Sims carried Jacksonville offensively in the third quarter. Sims gouged her way inside for a pair of baskets with feeds from Ebony Ghoshon and Lanier.

McClellan cut it to five before the end of the quarter, but Randell provided a sign of things to come at the start of the fourth period when she sank a three-pointer to make it 28-21.

Ghoshon returned the lead to double digits with an assist from Evans, who passed from mid-court to a wide-open Ghoshon in the lane.

But McClellan’s ensuing 6-0 run made it close again, if only briefly.

Shimila Crawford hit two straight baskets for the Lady Lions to close to 32-28 with 1:49 left, and got a defensive rebound off a missed free throw by Randell for a chance to make it a one-score game. But Evans picked off a pass at mid-court and quickly got it back to Randell, who converted a three-point play to put Jacksonville up 35-28.