Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

SPORTS >> Falcons whip Eagles

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

The mercy rule was designed to give teams like Crossett a break.

But it worked out pretty well for North Pulaski too.

North Pulaski rolled to a 66-31 victory over Crossett on Friday, triggering the mercy rule that keeps the clock running after the Falcons claimed a 30-point lead in the fourth quarter at North Pulaski.

While the rule shortened Crossett’s beating, the one-sided game also gave North Pulaski a chance to rest some players and get experience for others as the Falcons head into a critical portion of their 5A-Southeast schedule.

“I needed that one, man,” coach Ray Cooper said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

North Pulaski was at Sylvan Hills on Tuesday night, beginning a tough three-game stretch that will also take them to Monticello on Friday and put them at home against Little Rock McClellan, which is looking more and more like a state title contender, on Tuesday.

With that in mind, Cooper, who led the Falcons to last year’s state final, was pleased with Friday’s performance. He said the effort was a continuation of the hard work he had seen in recent practices.

After the Falcons’ previous victory over Beebe, Cooper, who shook up his starting lineup in that game, said he had been unhappy with his players’ intensity.

“It wasn’t the scoreboard,” Cooper said of Friday’s victory. “It was the effort level and the unselfishness that they played with tonight. That’s what we’ve been trying to get out of them. It’s just ‘Give me everything you’ve got,’ and the practices were better.

“It’s been a long time since we had good practices and guys are getting back and refocused so that’s a good sign.”

Crossett had early leads of 3-0, 5-0 and 8-6, but North Pulaski opened the game determined to pressure the Eagles, and after Crossett’s fourth turnover, Aaron Cooper made a three-pointer from the left wing for the 9-8 lead, and the Falcons never trailed again.

North Pulaski led 19-14 after the first quarter and outscored Crossett 21-4 in the second period. The Eagles committed 19 turnovers against the Falcons’ pressure in the first half.

“We knew coming in that they were very, very talented, very, very well coached,” Crossett coach Kris DeJarnette said. “And you basically have everybody back from a state finals team last year. We used this as we’re trying to get better and we’re not going to see any better personnel than we saw tonight.”

North Pulaski (11-4, 3-0) didn’t let up much in the third quarter, outscoring Crossett 19-6. DeJarnette said North Pulaski’s defense, with its traps and double-teams, was better than just about any he’d seen.

“We played El Dorado a couple weeks ago, of course they’re a 6A team,” DeJarnette said. “El Dorado is a little bigger than they are, but it’s no better than that. And they’re running guys off the bench; their depth is unbelievable.”

“That’s who we are,” Cooper said of the defense. “It’s been a grind trying to get them to go and play at that height. We’ve done it in spurts, but I’ve been trying to get them to keep doing it with some consistency and tonight was the first time that we played defensively with that kind of intensity and toughness.”

The Falcons led 59-24 on Kyron Ware’s buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the third quarter. The big lead meant the entire fourth quarter was played under the mercy rule and it wasn’t long before the teams had cleared their benches.

“What we have finally is we’ve got everybody practicing hard,” Ray Cooper said. “It was good to reward the guys that are practicing hard every day and get them out there and get them involved. It was just good for the morale of the team.”

Ware and Christian Knight led a balanced Falcons effort with 11 points each. Aaron Cooper, Daquan Bryant and I.J. Ready each scored 10.

Clarence Malcolm led Crossett with 10 points.

Cooper was also pleased to be at full strength after limiting playing time or benching certain players, like Bryant, for minor disciplinary infractions. Bryant, 6-3, 225 pounds, was a contributor Friday, but he showed a little rust when he missed an open dunk in the first half.

“He’s missed several games and so he hadn’t played a lot over the last five- or six-game stretch,” Ray Cooper said. “He still doesn’t have his legs under him but he’s a big part of who we are and we need him.”

Ray Cooper was looking forward to a free Saturday without poring over game film, thanks to the Falcons’ satisfying performance Friday. But he said he didn’t expect to have any problem maintaining the team’s new-found intensity.

“I’ll find something wrong,” he said. “When we watch the tape I guarantee you I’ll find something wrong. But I’m glad we’ve got an extra day. Normally, tomorrow morning, I’m right on it. So tomorrow I’m just going to enjoy this one and we’ll jump on it Sunday.”

Crossett ran away with a victory in the girls game, beating North Pulaski 48-22 behind 15 points from Shanae Gavan and 13 from LaDandra Robinson.

The Lady Eagles took a 12-6 lead at the end of the first quarter and pulled away in the second, outscoring the Lady Falcons 19-4.

There was no letup in the third quarter, which Crossett dominated 13-5.

Densha Shelto led North Pulaski with eight points and Laura Dortch scored seven.