Friday, February 24, 2012

SPORTS >> Lonoke left behind by Westside

Leader sportswriter

CAVE CITY – It was a win or go home game for the Lonoke Jackrabbits and Jonesboro-Westside Warriors in the first round of the 4A Regional tournament Thursday night in Cave City. Both teams played on the same level in the first half, but in the second Westside went on a momentum-driven run to pull away and beat Lonoke 48-34 to lock up a spot in the 4A state tournament.

The loss ended Lonoke’s season as the Rabbits had no answer for Westside’s lengthy scoring run in the third quarter. At the end of the first quarter of play, the score was tied at 13. By the end of the second, the score was even at 22 before Westside’s Aaron Price hit a three to give the Warriors a 25-22 lead at the break.

In the third, Westside (18-7) made play after play on both ends of the court. Lonoke (17-11) tried to play its way back into the game, but turnovers and missed opportunities only worked in the Warriors’ favor.

“They made a run and we didn’t answer,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell about the Rabbits second-half collapse. “They made shots and I thought we had opportunities. We missed a lot of easy buckets.

“Granted, they were contested, but we missed a lot of shots within six feet. It wasn’t just in the third quarter. We missed a lot of those in the first half as well, which hurt us.”

Lonoke had its share of missed opportunities throughout the game, but the third quarter was where the Rabbits committed the majority of their 18 turnovers. Westside capitalized on nearly every one, and pushed its lead to 36-26 by the start of the fourth.

The Rabbits cut the Warriors’ lead back to single digits on more than one occasion in the fourth, but Westside had an answer for almost every Lonoke basket. Westside led 46-34 with under a minute to play, and held the ball on its final possession until Lucas Johnston was fouled with 7.1 seconds left. Johnston hit both free throws to set the final score.

Sophomore Blake Mack led Lonoke with 12 points. Senior standout Tarrale Watson finished his high school career with nine points, seven boards and two blocks. Junior Dra Offord finished with eight points and five boards for Lonoke. Point guard Gatlin Hufstedler scored a game-high 15 points. Johnston scored 14.

This year is the first time in a few years that Lonoke will miss the state tournament, but for a young team with only two seniors, this experience could be one for the underclassmen to build on, according to Campbell.

“We shied away from that all year, talking about that,” Campbell said about the team’s youth, “but there were times tonight where we looked inexperienced for a group that had been to state at least the previous two years, won two years ago and in the finals last year.

“You know, kids that have been a part of that and know and understand what it’s like. So hopefully what Tarrale (Watson) and Jackeli (Bryant) have done for us this year, as our only two seniors, will lay down the foundation for our time to be there. Those two guys have done some really good things to push us forward.”