By JASON KING
Victories and losses mean more to the Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits now that 2-4A Conference play has started, but improvement in every game is still top priority.
The Lady Jackrabbits are 7-4, 1-1 after falling 46-44 to Southside Batesville on Monday. It was Lonoke’s first conference loss since February 2009.
“We’re still in the process of putting everything together,” Lady Jackrabbits coach Nathan Morris said. “We go into every practice trying to get better.”
Lonoke got off to a good start with a 58-39 conference rout of Newport on Dec. 7 thanks to senior guard Cara Neighbors’ 17-point performance that led all scorers.
Patrice Smith was the surprise of the game, though. Smith made four three-pointers and finished with 13 points.
“We were able to get a few shots to drop,” Morris said. “In the second half, we made shots when we were given opportunities, we were also able to get to the line as well.”
Smith’s outside shooting was the difference in an earlier victory at Riverview when she hit the winning three-pointer just before the buzzer.
The home loss to Southside Batesville went to the wire, as the Lady Southerners led 21-16 at halftime before the Lady Jackrabbits outscored them 14-8 in the third quarter.
“It was a game of runs,” Morris said. “The last run was them.”
The Lady Jackrabbits were down by two with eight seconds to play when a shot on an inbound play fell short, as did two putback attempts.
Neighbors led with 17 points and Emily Howell scored 13.
Neighbors, averaging close to 20 points and 6.8 rebounds a game, is the only returning starter this year. Howell, Smith and Artice Morris all got significant playing time off the bench last season and are beginning to grow into their starting roles, Morris said.
“Every kid has done something to step up their game,” Morris said. “We even got better out of the loss to Southside; every game, we come out in better shape.”
Stuttgart was projected to be one of the tougher teams this season, but disciplinary issues have led to setbacks. Morris said Heber Springs, Cave City and Southside Batesville will be among the strongest contenders, and hopes his team will fall somewhere in the mix.
“I think you’re going to see a wide-open race,” Morris said. “We’ve seen teams get on a roll in the past, and it could be the same way again this year. A couple of teams get on a good roll before regional tournament time.”