Tuesday, March 01, 2011

SPORTS >> Lady Red Devils end fruitless conference run

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils started strong thanks to Jessica Jackson and finished strong thanks to Tiffany Smith.

But the players were just bookends to an otherwise inconsistent Lady Red Devils performance as Mountain Home took a 46-40 victory at the Devils Den on Friday.

The loss ended a winless run through the 6A-East Conference for Jacksonville (8-19, 0-14).

“The only thing you can say is, you go up there three-and-half weeks ago, and basically get mercy ruled,” Lady Red Devils coach Katrina Mimms said. “And then you play them tonight, your last game, and lose by four or five. You’ve got to look at that and say, ‘Okay, this is how much we’ve improved in three weeks.’ ”

Jackson, the sophomore standout and college prospect, got Jacksonville rolling with eight quick points, including a pair of three-pointers that gave the Lady Devils a 12-5 lead midway through the first quarter.

Mountain Home took the remainder of the half to catch up and went ahead 17-16 at halftime on Nicole Bolt’s free throw with five seconds remaining.

“I knew it was going to be hard to win here tonight for a lot of reasons,” Mountain Home coach Dell Leonard said. “Number one, Jacksonville has played really well here all year for the most part, and they’ve got some talented players.

“And the other thing is, we played Hall on Tuesday, Parkview last night — we just don’t have a lot of legs right now.”

The third quarter was the deciding factor for the Lady Bombers, who forced eight turnovers and went ahead 31-20. Katie Kapler made two free throws to start the fourth quarter that gave Mountain Home its largest lead, 33-20, before the freshman Smith led Jacksonville’s comeback charge.

Smith scored all of her 11 points in the fourth quarter.

Jackson led the Lady Red Devils with 17 points, but her last nine didn’t come as easily as her first eight. The Lady Bombers ran traps on Jackson the length of the floor for most of the night and held her scoreless in the third quarter.

“And still, at times, didn’t do our job,” Leonard said of the defense on Jackson. “I thought Nicole Bolt did a great job of guarding her tonight. Everybody else was supposed to be ready to help, but there were times when she just made some tough shots.”

Jackson hit a three pointer that cut the lead to 33-23 with 7:09 left to play, and Smith began driving inside. She hit three baskets from the floor and went 5 for 6 at the free-throw line in the final 5:52.

“Teams are going to do that to her because she’s hard to defend,” Mimms said of Jackson. “We tried to put her in the block some and get her the ball that way and let her make some moves.

“I thought Tiffany Smith down the stretch penetrated well; it kind of took some pressure off Jess.”

Smith made it 37-28 on free throws with 3:59 left, and Jennifer Ballard cut it to seven with an inside basket at 3:39.

Jackson cut Mountain Home’s lead to 37-33 with a basket and free throw, but Maggie Jo Cooper answered with a three-point play for the Lady Bombers.

Smith scored two more times on putbacks, the second of which narrowed the margin to 44-40 with just under four seconds left.

Melissa Miller added eight points for Jacksonville.

Kapler led Mountain Home with 15 points while Cooper added 13 for the Lady Bombers and Bolt scored 10.

The Lady Red Devils stayed around .500 through non-conference play before opening 6A-East play. But Mimms was not as disappointed in the 0-14 conference run as she was optimistic about her young squad.

“I don’t really think you can call it a disappointment when a lot of nights, you’re putting three or four freshmen out there,” Mimms said. “I’m playing four tenth-graders. Yeah, it’s disappointing because we didn’t win a ballgame, but they are so young that you have to look at it in that aspect.

“One thing you can say about these kids — another team that’s 0-13 coming in to their last ballgame probably don’t even play hard, because they’ve already given up. And these kids have just been relentless. You can’t teach that. They keep coming to practice, they keep trying to get better, and that’s all you can ask for.”

The Lady Red Devils are the No. 8 seed out of the 6A-East and played South No. 1 seed El Dorado on Tuesday night.