Wednesday, March 11, 2009

SPORTS >> Lonoke girls advance to finals

Leader sportswriter

PINE BLUFF — Thanks to a heads-up defensive play by senior guard Lauren Harper, the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits are returning to the Class 4A state championship game … for the third year in a row.

Star City had whittled a 14-point halftime deficit to six when Harper stole a pass under the Lonoke goal, resulting in a critical basket by Emily Shoemaker as the Lady ’Rabbits went on to seize a 52-42 win over Star City on Saturday afternoon at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. The Lady Bull-dogs ended their season with a 31-2 record, both losses coming at the hands of Lonoke.

Lonoke will play Shiloh Christian Academy for the 4A state championship Thursday at 7 p.m.

“That was huge,” said Lady Jackrabbits coach Nathan Morris. “They cut a 14-point lead down to six in about two minutes. It’s very uncharacteristic of us. We knew they were going to make a run. They’re not a good team without making a run.

“Honestly, (Harper and Shoemaker) stepped up and made a good play late. I think that might have held off execution for us. That might have been just enough where we could still keep taking some hits.”

It was Lonoke that did the slicing at the start of the game. Star City pressed, and the Lady ’Rabbits broke it, continually. Lonoke also benefited from eight Lady Bulldog turnovers in the opening period, as it pulled out to a 20-10 lead after one quarter.

“I don’t think we would have won the game without it,” Morris said of the early run. “I still don’t know why we didn’t finish out, but I think we got a little complacent. Our legs were gone. When we attacked late, they were in front of us. They were a little bit more fresh.”

Star City spent the entire third period slicing away at the Lady ’Rabbits 30-16 halftime lead, and got it as close as 34-30 with 2:04 left in the quarter. Ashleigh Himstedt pushed it back to six with a pair of foul shots, and Harper’s steal allowed the Lady Jackrabbits (26-7) to seize the momentum.

Michaela Brown drove the lane for two more points at the buzzer to give Lonoke a 10-point lead heading into the final quarter.

Lonoke enjoyed its best offensive success early, going 9 of 17 from the floor in the first quarter. They cooled off to finish 18 of 43, while making 15 of 28 free throws.
Star City struggled offensively from tip to final buzzer. It was 7 of 25 at the half, 15 of 51 for the game.

“We cut it to four, but we tried to force the pass, and we lost it,” said Lady Bulldogs coach Becky Brown. “And then the momentum swung back. It seems like every time we got momentum coming our way, something happened that it would swing back their way.

“They came out on fire. They beat our press and got easy lay-ups, and that was the key for them early.”

Sophomore guard Cara Neighbors came away with seven of her game-high 16 points in the first period. The Lady Jackrabbits missed four straight shots on their opening possession before Neighbors finally got position on a rebound for a putback at the 7:02 mark. She increased Lonoke’s lead to 13-6 with 3:08 left in the period on a driving basket, and gave the Lady ’Rabs their first double-digit lead of the game at the 2:05 mark.

Himstedt added 15 points and three steals.

Brown chipped in 10 points to go along with her four assists, while Shoemaker added six points and five rebounds. Post Asiah Scribner finished with five points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.

For Star City, sophomore Jerrica Scott led the way with 16 points and eight rebounds, with 10 more for senior Mariah Rochell.

Both teams ended with 34 team rebounds. Lonoke committed 14 turnovers, while the Lady Bulldogs had 15.

Lonoke beat Star City earlier in the season in the final of the Beebe Christmas tournament.

The Lady Jackrabbits lost in the state championship game the past two seasons.