Tuesday, March 08, 2011

SPORTS >> Red Devils ready to retake Summit

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils repaid Raheem Appleby’s numerous favors Saturday and as a result are playing in their second 6A state championship game in three years.

Jacksonville beat fellow 6A-East member Jonesboro for the fourth time this season, taking a 50-40, semifinal victory to advance to the state final at Hot Springs’ Summit Arena on Saturday.

The victory sets up another 6A-East rematch as Jacksonville meets Little Rock Parkview for the third time this year. Tipoff is 4:15 p.m.

Jacksonville beat Little Rock Hall for the state championship in 2009.

Things looked dicey for the Red Devils in their semifinal when Appleby, the team’s standout guard and scoring leader, was hobbled by a twisted ankle approximately four minutes into the game and had to sit out the rest of the first half.

But the rest of the Red Devils took up the slack, and Jacksonville broke open a close game by outscoring Jonesboro 20-8 in the fourth quarter.

“I told them, ‘He’s been carrying you guys all year, you have to come out and carry him now,’ ” coach Vic Joyner said of his halftime remarks. “I was very emphatic and they came out and they helped.”

Though stationary, Appleby was able to make three three pointers as part of his 13 points. But support came thanks to sophomore Justin McCleary, who scored 10 points, James Aiken who scored nine on three-pointers and Terrell Brown, who scored seven.

Joyner also praised Xavier Huskey, Jamison Williams, Dustin House, Aaron Smith and Crushawn Hayes for their quality minutes.

“They all came out and stepped their game up when Raheem got hurt,” Joyner said.

Appleby was wearing a boot to support his injured ankle early in the week and Joyner was hoping to get him some rest first and practice time if possible, but to at least have Appleby ready for Saturday.

If Appleby, who was averaging more than 19 points a game entering the tournament, can’t go, Joyner is at least encouraged bythe way the rest of the roster has contributed lately.

And if Appleby can play, he is certain to face the same box-and-one defense Parkview threw at him in the regular season, which makes the contribution of the other players just as important.

“Being able to play without Raheem at his peak and having to force those guys to have to step up is a microcosm of what we have to do Saturday,” Joyner said.

Jacksonville and Parkview played their regular-season games during a brutal stretch in which many teams were forced to play three games in one week, sometimes two on consecutive nights, because of weather-related postponements.

Jacksonville won at the Devils Den by 18 points and Parkview won on its home court by 10. The teams finished tied atop the conference standings but Jacksonville got the 6A-East championship and the No. 2 seed to the state tournament because it held the tiebreaker thanks to its larger margin of victory.

Van Buren was the top seed after winning the 7A/6A-Central Conference and dropping into the 6A tournament as the East No. 1 seed in a wrinkle developed by the Arkansas Activities Association during the last round of reclassification.

Marion blew out Van Buren on its way to the semifinals, which featured all 6A-East teams.

Defending state champion Little Rock Hall and West Memphis, who played in the 6A-East but jumped up to 7A for the state tournament, will meet in the 7A final.

“The last three weeks they have gone 9-0 in three weeks where we had three games,” Joyner said. “That’s phenomenal. As brutal as this conference is, to do that was a real feat.”

Joyner had a chance to discuss the strength of the 6A-East with West Memphis coach Larry Bray.

“It goes without saying,” Joyner said. “I’ve been harping on it all year long. I asked Larry Bray, who is a legend around here with his 30-some years of coaching, and he said, ‘Coach I’ve only seen a conference this good, top to bottom, once in 30 years of coaching.’ ”

Arkansas Razorbacks signee Aaron Ross, who has been dealing with a bad shoulder, leads Parkview.

Even if both teams’ stars are hobbled, Saturday’s game should be quite a showdown, Joyner said.

“It’s a whole new ballgame every time you get there,” Joyner said. “Just the sheer intensity that these guys had to bring every night in that conference, Parkview included.

“It won’t be a wildness factor, I hope. You never know with teenagers. But they have played on the road in some hostile environments and they were up for the challenge.”