Friday, February 10, 2012

SPORTS >> Lonoke beats Clinton, sets district seeds

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke boys sealed up third place in conference and the girls fourth after a sweep of the Clinton Yellowjackets on Tuesday at Lonoke High School. The Lonoke teams still have a game to go against league leading Heber Springs.

The Panthers are in first place in boys and girls 4A-2 Conference standings, but no matter how things turned out in Friday’s matchups, the Jackrabbits’ spots in next week’s district tournament are settled.

That’s thanks to two big wins on Tuesday over Clinton. The girls won 43-26 while the boys prevailed 53-35.

The Lonoke boys (16-8, 9-4) jumped out to a big early lead, but let most of it slip away in the second quarter. On the strength of a huge half by sophomore guard Blake Mack, the Jackrabbits ran out to a 20-7 lead after one quarter. That lead was cut to 26-20 just past the midway point of the second quarter.

“I think we relaxed a little bit in the second quarter and let down the intensity,” Lonoke coach Dean Campbell said. “We got up on them so quickly, we just relaxed. It’s sort of a natural thing. You don’t like it and you don’t want to see it again, but you understand how it happens.”

After a timeout, Lonoke quickly and permanently regained control.

The Jackrabbits stretched the lead to nine, 34-25, by halftime. Mack had scored 23 of those points on his way to a career-high 28-point night. The Jackrabbits then started the third quarter with a huge run.

“We talked about getting back to where we were, intensity-wise, at the start,” Campbell said of his team’s halftime conversation. “We stress how important those first four minutes of the third quarter always are. I thought they went out and really dominated the whole eight minutes.”

Lonoke out-scored Clinton 19-4 in the third, with five players getting buckets during the game-clinching run.

“It was a lot more balanced in the third quarter,” Campbell said. “The first half wasn’t really a matter of not being balanced, Blake was just really in a rhythm. He attacked early. He got a couple of good looks at mid-range, got a couple of easy buckets. He shot the three well. He got to the free-throw line and made them. He just kind of caught everything in rhythm and had a really good night.”

The Lady Jackrabbits (15-11, 9-4) weren’t in danger of losing their four seed at district to the fifth-place Lady Yellowjackets (6-17, 4-9). Five games separate fourth and fifth in the unusual league standings.

Lonoke led only 8-6 after one quarter and stretched it to 23-14 by halftime. The game was still relatively close after three quarters, 32-22, but Lonoke won the fourth quarter 11-4 to win the game going away.

“Their record isn’t that great, but the way they play they give people a tough time,” Lonoke girls coach Nathan Morris said. “Their coach said we’ve beat them worse than anyone in our league this year. The way they pack that zone in you have to turn them over or they’re going to give you some trouble. Their guard play is not what it’s been and I think our speed really gives them some matchup problems.”

The Clinton ladies also rely heavily on the three-point shot, but that wasn’t working for them on Tuesday. The Lady Yellowjackets went 0 for 13 from outside the arc.

“They didn’t shoot it well, but a lot of that was because of a hand in their face,” Morris said. “I thought we did a good job defensively as far as disrupting what they try to do.”

Freshman guard Kerasha Johnson led all scorers with a season-high 18 points. Senior post player Anna Himstedt added 10 for Lonoke.