Tuesday, March 01, 2011

SPORTS >> Jacksonville claims 6A-East supremacy

Leader sportswriter

There were no big surprises at Jacksonville as the Red Devils ground out a 56-38 victory over Mountain Home and secured the 6A-East Conference championship at the Devils Den on Friday.

The Red Devils (22-3, 11-3) finished as co-champions with Little Rock Parkview, but Jacksonville earned the higher seed thanks to its edge in the head-to-head tiebreaker. Jacksonville is the No. 2 seed out of the East and will take on South No. 7 seed Texarkana at Marion at 2:30 p.m. today.

Senior guard Raheem Appleby led the Red Devils with 16 points and seven rebounds, as Jacksonville’s defense limited Mountain Home to several one-shot possessions.

The Bombers also hurt themselves by rushing shots leading to easy Red Devils rebounds.

It was the second of consecutive, long road trips for Mountain Home, which played at Parkview on Thursday.

“It got ugly; bad decision making,” Jacksonville coach Victor Joyner said. “Everybody was tired out there. I know Mountain Home — you talk about a team with some guts, big hearts.

“My kids came out, to win this conference, as tough as it is from top to bottom every single night, to be picked second or third from the bottom at the beginning of the season is a testament to how hard these kids have worked their butts off.”

Mountain Home (9-18, 2-12) could never mount a comeback after Jacksonville took a 10-2 lead halfway through the opening period. The Bombers cut the lead to two possessions for brief periods in the first half, but Jacksonville quickly pulled away for good at the start of the second.

Xavier Huskey led a Jacksonville defense that held Mountain Home to 10 points or less in three quarters.

“We worked on it and worked on it,” Joyner said. “Huskey ran about 35 sets man-to-man wise, and we were trying to get ready for all of them. We broke it down by position, and those kids gutted it out on defense. I thought they did a great job.”

The stands were packed with Red Devil fans and a number of college scouts who were present to get a glimpse of Appleby. After being overlooked by NCAA Division I schools for most of the year, Appleby now is drawing serious interest from the University of Missouri and the University of Tulsa.

Appleby took advantage of his opportunities to impress with a steal and breakaway dunk with 5:40 left in the first half, but also proved his worth as a team player with assists that allowed three teammates to score eight points.

Appleby helped create opportunities for sophomore Justin McCleary and James Aikens, who led the outside assault for Jacksonville with a pair of three-point baskets in the second quarter. Jamison Williams had success inside with eight points, all in the first half.

Aikens scored to start the third quarter to give Jacksonville a 34-22 lead, and Williams got a steal and passed to Appleby for a layup with 5:47 left in the third to make it 36-22.

Post player Rolandis Hall got in on the action when he converted a three-point play with 4:20 left in the period to extend the Devils’ lead to 39-24. McCleary got a steal and layup to give Jacksonville a 47-29 lead to start the fourth, and the Red Devils milked the clock from there.

Bryce Larry led the Bombers with 10 points while Calvin Henry and Philip Kapler each had nine. Hall had seven points for Jacksonville.

The second seed set Jacksonville up with a favorable spot near the bottom of the 6A tournament bracket. A victory over Texarkana today will pit the Red Devils against the winner of the game between South No. 3 seed Little Rock Fair and East No. 6 seed Searcy.

Benton played Mountain Home and Jonesboro played Lake Hamilton in first-round games on Jacksonville’s side of the bracket.

The Red Devils swept Mountain Home and Searcy in their regular season matchups and are 3-0 against Jonesboro this year.

But Joyner is taking no one lightly.

“It’s the state tournament; nobody has a leg up, anything can happen,” Joyner said. “I don’t buy into that, ‘The South is this and the East is that.’ It’s the state tournament. Either you come out and you show up, or you go home.”