Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

SPORTS >> Lonoke denied fourth trip to final

Ashleigh Himstedt drives into the lane against Prairie Grove’s Kedra Coyle.

By JASON KING

Leader sportswriter

CHEROKEE VILLAGE — A stellar Prairie Grove defense abruptly halted Lonoke’s four-year run in a 35-32 Prairie Grove victory in the 4A state semifinals at A.L. Hutson Memorial Center on Saturday.

The Lady Tigers (31-1) will face Star City at 7 p.m. on Thursday in the 4A championship game at Hot Springs’ Summit Arena. It is the first time since 2006 the Lady Jackrabbits (28-6) will miss the trip to Hot Springs and the final.

“I don’t think people fully understand the kind of hours we put in together,” Lonoke coach Nathan Morris said. “Two of those kids have started since the ninth grade, one other senior has started since her sophomore year.

“I’ve said this many times: they are better kids than they are basketball players. And they are going to be successful people; it’s just bad that we’ve come to the end of the road now.”

Lonoke junior guard Cara Neighbors hit what would have been the go-ahead basket with 24 seconds remaining and Prairie Grove holding a 33-32 lead, but she was called for an offensive foul. The Lady Tigers’ Elysia Clement then made two free throws to set the final margin.

“These girls mean so much to me, I can’t say it,” an emotional Prairie Grove coach Kevin Froud said. “The way they fought — we had people getting hurt left and right. But seniors stepped up and made plays.”

Asiah Scribner started the final period with an inside basket assisted by Neighbors that broke a 27-27 tie at the end of the third quarter. And things looked promising for the Lady Jackrabbits with 7:11 left to play when Michaela Brown made a pair of free throws for the 31-27 lead.

But that was the end of Lonoke’s scoring with the exception of a lone free throw by Scribner with 37 seconds left to pull the Lady Jackrabbits within 33-32.

“First of all, my hat’s off to Prairie Grove,” Morris said. “They’ve done an outstanding job, and they’ve got an outstanding basketball team. They had a couple of chances where they were tired; they were grabbing shorts, and they know it. They were down. But that’s why I give them the credit for making the run.”

Freshman post player Justyne Huber got the Lady Tigers off to a fast start with a pair of baskets in the middle of the first quarter for an 8-2 lead. Neighbors closed the gap for Lonoke with a basket followed by a pair of free throws with 1:57 left in the first to make it 8-6.

The Lady Jackrabbits went on a 7-0 run to start the second quarter, including a transition shot by Ashleigh Himstedt set up with a defensive rebound and quick assist from Brown to make it 12-12 with 6:05 left in the half. Neighbors made a jumper and a free throw to give the Lady ’Rabbits their first lead, 15-12, with 4:42 remaining.

Neighbors led Lonoke with 15 points and Scribner scored nine. Senior Julie Rutherford led Prairie Grove with 10 points while Kendra Coyle and Huber each scored eight.

It was the final high-school game for Scribner and Brown, who started as freshmen and have been a part of Lonoke’s three state final appearances, four regional championships, two conference and district tournament championships and numerous invitational tournament victories since their freshman season.

It was also the last game for Himstedt, a starter since she was a sophomore and another key to Lonoke’s success the past three years.

“You’ve got to put it into perspective,” Morris said. “We don’t have to have a state championship ring to be champions. That’s not what’s going to define those kids in that locker room. What will define them is what kind of people they are going to be, what kind of mommas they’re going to be, what did they take from basketball.

“All that hardware collects dust. But the time spent, that’s what the true measure is going to be.”