Friday, February 13, 2009

SPORTS >> Devils complete gauntlet 3-0

Leader sports writer

After completing the arduous trek through the murderer’s row of West Memphis, Little Rock Hall and Parkview over an eight-day span, Jacksonville head coach Vic Joyner admitted he probably would have been happy with two wins.

Jacksonville, however, didn’t settle for 2-1 against the best of the 6A-East. Instead, the Red Devils completed the three-game sweep with a 54-47 win over Parkview on Tuesday night at Charles Ripley Arena.

“That’s a helluva three-game schedule,” said Joyner, whose club beat West Memphis last Tuesday before going on the road to knock off defending champion Little Rock Hall on Friday. “We came out and won ugly, but an ugly win is better than an ugly loss.”

It was a sloppy affair in which neither team could get anything going offensively early, and the game remained scoreless through the first four minutes. The Red Devils seized control of the contest late in the third period with a 12-2 run that had the cold-shooting Patriots reeling with a 41-26 deficit.

But the Red Devils began to get impatient and force the action rather than protect the lead. Three consecutive turnovers led to a 7-0 Parkview run that narrowed the deficit to 44-39 with 2:25 left in the game and shifted the momentum dangerously into the Patriot column.

A couple of time outs later and Joyner had his team steadied again. The Red Devils made 10 of 12 free throws over the final 1:53. Deshone McClure connected on all six of his attempts during the stretch and Jacksonville won its sixth in a row to improve to 14-3 overall, 7-1 in the conference. The Red Devils remain a half-game behind Hall, but currently own the tie-break.

“We came down and showed poise the last two or three minutes,” Joyner said. “Other than that, we didn’t show much poise. I thought we got a little anxious. We’ve got to be a little more patient. That’s the first time since preseason that we were (that impatient).”

The Red Devils got 16 points and a pair of assists from McClure and 13 points and eight rebounds from Laquinton Miles. Cortrell Eskridge scored only two points but came up big on the defensive end with a pair of blocks and 10 rebounds.

“We had four kids been in the sick bed for two days,” Joyner said. “Cortrell came out with the flu bug and stepped up like a man. He’s a totally unselfish kid.”

Eskridge’s lone basket was a huge one. After the Patriots had pulled within two points early in the third period, Eskridge hit an off-balance 10-foot fade-away moving across the lane to spark a 14-2 run that opened the lead to 38-24.

While Jacksonville didn’t shoot the ball particularly well on Tuesday, making just 13 of 35 shots, Parkview was positively woeful. Before hitting five of their final 12 shots in the game, the Patriots had connected on only 10 of 36 and finished under 33 percent. They missed all eight of their three-point attempts.

“We couldn’t make shots,” said Parkview coach Al Flannigan, whose team fell to 13-7, 5-4 in league play. “We were just not patient. We didn’t make them work on defense. And then we allowed them to rebound our missed shots.

“They’re a good club and (Joyner’s) doing a good job with those guys.”

The game was played at a fast pace early and Parkview used three fast breaks to take a 13-7 lead. But twice in a row, the Red Devils broke the Parkview press for jams — one by Antwan Lockhart, the other by McClure as the buzzer sounded to end the first period.

Jacksonville still trailed 16-11 when Miles hit a pair of free throws and a three and Raheem Appleby came off the bench to hit a three for the Devils to take the lead for good at 19-16 midway through the second quarter. Miles’ end-to-end drive and basket in the final seconds of the first half allowed the Red Devils to take a 23-18 lead into the locker room.

Jacksonville won the rebounding battle 36-31. Demetrius Harris had nine boards to go along with seven points and a block. Lockhart had seven points and Stanley Appleby added four points. The Red Devils knocked down 24 of 35 free throws, while Parkview made 17 of 24.

“We came out a little sluggish but you’d expect that,” Joyner said. “We had a long week. And they made us look a little sloppy because they ran a matchup zone and we couldn’t hit our stride. But we banged it down the stretch and made our free throws.”

First-place Hall plays four of its final five games on the road, beginning with a trip to Parkview last night. The Warriors must also travel to West Memphis, Mountain Home and Jonesboro.

Jacksonville’s road appears to be less treacherous, with a home game against Searcy last night, two games with Mountain Home, West Memphis on the road and Marion and Jonesboro at home.