Friday, January 30, 2009

SPORTS>>Lady Jackrabbits survive

Leader sports editor

Even when the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits fell behind by eight points early to Stuttgart on Wednesday night, no one really believed they wouldn’t come back.

And when they finally took the lead after a 7-0 run in the second period, it seemed order had been restored. But Stuttgart wasn’t about to roll over for anybody, even big, bad 2-4A perennial power Lonoke. Not even when the Lady ’Rabbits scored 12 straight points in the third period and led by seven with seven minutes left in the game.

The Lady Ricebirds kept firing and connecting and eventually forced an overtime. It was at that point that order actually was restored as Lonoke escaped with a 61-53 win to move within a game of Bald Knob.

“It was exciting if you were in the stands,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris, whose Lady Jackrabbits improved to 17-4 overall and 8-1 in league play. “It wasn’t for us coaches. We were a little sluggish early. (Stuttgart) is not the kind of team people want to play down the stretch.

“Fortunately, we’ll be able to draw on this one in late February and early March.”

It took the heady, experienced play of juniors Michaela Brown, Ashleigh Himstedt and Ashia Scribner, along with a couple of big assists from sophomore Cara Neighbors, to pull this one out of the fire. Scribner led the way with 21 points and 17 rebounds, but Lonoke still had to withstand the torrid shooting of Stuttgart’s Kayla Robinson, who led all scorers with 24 points. The Lady Ricebirds knocked down 5 of 12 from beyond the arc, but Lonoke used an eight-rebound advantage and five fewer turnovers to get off 13 more shots, just enough to hold on.

After Himstedt hit a baseline shot to open the final period, Lonoke led 45-38, and it seemed that the Lady ’Rabbits might finally squelch Stuttgart’s upset bid. But Lonoke committed three of its 11 turnovers over the next three minutes, and the Lady Ricebirds stormed back to take a 47-45 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Twice over the next two minutes, Stuttgart went ahead, but each time, Lonoke responded. Emily Shoemaker got a rebound basket to knot it at 49 with 2:32 left, and Scribner hit a 10-footer in the lane with 24 seconds to send it into overtime.

Robinson opened the extra period with an end-to-end drive off a rebound to give Stuttgart the lead again 33 seconds into overtime. But it was Stuttgart’s last points of the game. Neigbors got a steal and a breakaway bucket to tie it with 2:46 left. The Lady Ricebirds twice had chances to reclaim the lead, but missed on a runner, then missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Scribner’s putback basket at the two-minute mark gave Lonoke the lead for good, though Stuttgart missed a game-tying lay-up at the other end. Neighbors gave Lonoke some breathing room by knocking down a six-footer along the baseline to make it 57-53 with 1:20 left. Brown finished it off by going 4 of 4 at the line over the final 41 seconds.

“We’ve had kids that have been in that position before,” Morris said. “Michaela has been in that game 20 times over and so has Asiah. Ashleigh, maybe 15 times. It’s no secret that we’re going as far as our guards and Asiah inside take us, as long as they stay cool under pressure.

“When you see Michaela bite that lower lip, you better get out of the way, because she’s fixing to take to team to where it needs to be.”

The Lady Ricebirds stormed out to a 14-6 lead and out-rebounded Lonoke 9-3 in the first period. The Lady Rabbits trailed by three after one and the teams went into the locker room tied at 27.

Though Lonoke began to assert its dominance on the glass, Stuttgart used a 9-4 run to start the third period to take a 36-31 lead. But Lonoke used two lay-ups and a free throw by Scribner and Himstedt’s nifty baseline drive and two free throws to stage a 12-0 run and take a 43-36 lead. The Lady Rabbits led 43-38 after three quarters.

Himstedt added 14 points while Neigbors had 11. Brown scored nine points and dished out three assists while Lauren Harper had three assists and three steals. Shoemaker scord four points and pulled down five rebounds.

Lonoke made 24 of 59 shots overall, 2 of 12 from beyond the arc. They made 10 of 11 free throws in the second half to finish the night 11 of 15. Stuttgart was 19 of 46 from the field, 10 of 13 from the stripe.

Lonoke traveled to Southside Batesville last night. Next Friday, the Lady Jackrabbits host Bald Knob in what well could determine the 2-4A championship.