Wednesday, March 09, 2011

SPORTS >> Raiders hit by injury, take defeat

Leader sportswriter

SEARCY – Taylor Smith has carried the Riverview Raiders a few times in his high-school career.

But when his knee blew out midway through the second quarter of the Raiders’ 3A state quarterfinals game with Rivercrest, Smith couldn’t put Riverview on his back when the Raiders needed it most as Rivercrest won 67-52 at Rhodes Field House on Friday.

Smith and Demoine Brown, Rivercrest’s star player, collided at midcourt with 3:44 left in the first half and Riverview holding a 23-15 lead. Brown was charged with the foul to send Smith to the free-throw line, but it was immediately obvious something was wrong with Smith’s right knee.

Smith grimaced and limped to the line while coach Jon Laffoon called for a substitute, but Smith, the team captain, waved it off. He played the remainder of the game, but was at half speed and unable to penetrate for his trademark slashing drives.

The Raiders were also more vulnerable to Rivercrest’s full-court press without Smith’s speed.

“He’s just one of those special players that you can’t really replace,” Riverview coach Jon Laffoon said. “I’m not sure what happened — he said it was knee to knee. It was just unfortunate. When he went out, we’re just not the same team.”

The Colts (20-6) pulled to within four points at halftime and controlled the last two quarters. Rivercrest took the lead for good with 1:32 left in the third quarter and pulled away in the last four minutes.

“Me and D. Brown, our knees went head-on with each other,” Smith said. “I tried to play on it the best I could; I was limping around a little bit, but I still tried.”

Smith, who finished with seven points, racked up five assists in the first quarter, but following the injury he managed just two more. His rebounding also suffered as he finished with seven total.

Sixth man Rashard Bailey led the Raiders with 19 points while senior post player D.J. Teague had 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots. Brown led Rivercrest with 28 points and 13 rebounds.

“I saw it happen, but I tried not to pay too much attention to it,” Rivercrest coach Rick Wilson said of Smith’s injury. “He did a great job for them. I really appreciate him as a basketball player, and he did a heck of a job.”

Smith was injured earlier in the season in a non-conference game against Augusta and had to sit several games. In that time, the Raiders (25-7) watched their perfect season slip away.

It was an unceremonious ending for Smith, who finished his high school career with fellow seniors Teague, point guard Keinan Lee, reserve post Jamar Alexander and Cameron Moore.

“It’s a great group of kids,” Laffoon said. “They’re going to be successful in life, and that’s the most important thing. I told them at the first of the year, the ball’s going to stop bouncing for everybody. You just want to keep it bouncing as long as you can.

“Day by day, and they did that, and I enjoyed coaching them.”

It’s not the end of Smith’s basketball career, however. He has interest from several colleges, including Harding University, UCA, Tulsa, UALR and Arkansas State.

Smith has persevered despite playing for several coaches.

Danny Starkey, who led the Raiders to the 3A state championship in 2007, left following Smith’s sophomore season to become athletic director at White County Central High School. Russell Stumpenhous coached the boys and girls last season before Laffoon took over the boys just prior to the start of the season.

“I really enjoyed it,” Smith said. “Throughout my high-school career, I had a lot of coaching changes. I had to adjust. This year, I’m happy I still stuck with it and played with this team.”