SPORTS >> Lonoke keeps return to final in future plans
Leader sports writer
HEBER SPRINGS — The buzz around Lonoke’s bid for a fourth-straight state finals appearance will get louder now that the Lady Jackrabbits are officially qualified for the 4A state tournament.
And an easy qualifier it was for the Lady ’Rabbits, who gunned down an outsized Highland team 63-37 in the first round of the 4A East Regional tournament at Heber Springs High School on Wednesday.
Junior guard Cara Neighbors put an end to her recent shooting slump by scoring 26 points to lead Lonoke, while Ashleigh Himstedt added 15 points and point guard Michaela Brown scored 13.
The Lady Jackrabbits (25-5) started the game with a 17-3 run and put Highland out of contention with a 16-0 run to start the third quarter.
“Our guards carried us,” Lady Jackrabbits coach Nathan Morris said. “Our guards hit some big threes today. Cara Neighbors — especially early in the first quarter, Ashleigh Himstedt and Michaela in the second and third, and that got us to where we just needed to take care of the ball, and we did that.”
Although Brown and the rest of the Lonoke guards were unable to secure easy steals as they did against many of their 2-4A Conference opponents, their defensive pressure still caused a number of mental mistakes by the Lady Rebels. Highland had several early possessions end on traveling and double-dribble calls.
“That’s what we’ve got to understand,” Morris said. “The people who you just take the ball from aren’t still playing. They’re done for the year. All the teams that are left now can handle the basketball.”
Neighbors assisted Asiah Scribner on an inside shot to start the third quarter to make it 28-16 before hitting a three-pointer on the next possession. Brown followed with back-to-back three-pointers that stretched the lead to 37-16 with 5:54 left in the third.
Himstedt drove the lane and found a wide open basket for Lonoke’s next points, and Neighbors capped off the 16-0 run with a basket and free throw for a 42-18 Lady Jackrabbit lead.
“She shot the ball well,” Morris said of Neighbors. “She stayed after practice and shot some. A shooter’s got to be all about confidence. And if she’s got it going into the game, she’s going to be strong. She’s never been told not to shoot it, she’s got the green light all the time.”
The victory advanced Lonoke into Friday’s semifinal round to play Valley View, but the stress of securing a spot in next week’s 4A state tournament is over.
“We know we’re playing next week; we know we’re dancing,” Morris said. “That’s the thing. We’ve laid the tracks, and now we just need to enjoy the ride. We have to keep game planning for the people that come, keep doing things all year that’s made us successful and see how far it takes us.”
Kristina Langston led Highland with 11 points while Whitney Davis scored 10.