Friday, February 12, 2010

SPORTS >> Lonoke girls grab conference crown

Leader sportswriter

The Clinton Lady Yellowjackets entered the Lonoke gym on Wednesday with an outside chance of claiming at least a part of the 2-4A Conference championship.

But that’s about as far as they got.

Lonoke quickly established dominance and maintained it for three quarters until taking its foot off Clinton’s throat in the final period in a mercy-ruled 72-43 rout that gave the Lady Jackrabbits the league championship.

Lonoke has earned the No. 1 seed in next week’s 2-4A district tournament in Stuttgart and will have a first-round bye.

The Lady Jackrabbits (21-5, 13-0) held the Lady YellowJackets (20-4, 9-3) scoreless for the final 3:19 of the first quarter, which enabled them to take control with a 19-0 run that gave them a 31-5 lead heading into the second quarter.

Clinton managed a little more offense in the next period, but Lonoke’s momentum never faltered on the way to a 51-17 halftime lead. Lonoke is a three-time state runner-up but had only won one conference title in that span, and the regular-season championship was a goal for the Lady Jackrabbits this year.

“We played very, very well,” Lonoke coach Nathan Morris said. “Defensively, we played well. We made shots. We’re a tough out for somebody if we’re hitting outside like that. If we are, they’ve got to come guard us, and we’ll drive by or dump off to the bigs in the middle.

“I think every guard hit a big shot in that first quarter, and the post player certainly got hers when they came out and started defending. We played a complete game, we really did.”

Lonoke junior guard Cara Neighbors had more points, 16, at the end of the first quarter than any Clinton scorer in the entire game. And she backed up her game-high, 28-point total with three steals, four rebounds and two assists in the first eight minutes. She finished with 12 rebounds and six assists.

UALR signee Asiah Scribner added 19 points from her post spot.

“We were able to put her on somebody tonight that she could help real well off of,” Morris said of Neighbors. “Because she was doing that, she was able to get back-side rebounds. When she doesn’t have to worry about guarding a dominant scorer, she’s great at seeking a ball out and finding it.

“That’s also why she is so good at getting to the rack and scoring — she wants the ball.”

Clinton pinned much of it hopes on 6-1 senior post player Whitney Donahue, but she found trouble against the defense of sophomore Anna Himstedt and reserve Emily Howell. Lonoke held Donahue to 11 points while guard Logan Blagg led the Lady Yellowjackets with 14.

Lonoke did a similar job of stifling Donahue in the first meeting at Clinton.

“We alternated people on her,” Morris said. “We had Anna Himstedt at first and then Emily Howell, and they did a phenomenal job, just like they did up at their place. They were able to take chances because we had Asiah and Cara nine times out of 10 sitting back there in a help position off the people they were guarding.

“It allowed them to really get out there and get after her, and not worry so much about getting beat because they knew they had help.”

Neighbors scored on Lonoke’s first three possessions, including a three-pointer to start the game, to give the Lady Jackrabbits a 7-0 lead with 6:23 left in the first quarter.

Senior point guard Michaela Brown then made a three-pointer before Scribner got to work inside for the first of her 19 points.

Ashleigh Himstedt finished with 11 points while Brown scored 10 to give Lonoke four in double digits.

“It’s the right time to be playing like that,” Morris said. “Hopefully we can continue that in the district tournament next week. A veteran team knows the big games, and they knew they were in one tonight to secure a conference championship. Because of that, they came out ready to play.”