Friday, December 28, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Injuries, illness doom Lonoke ladies

Leader sportswriter

The opening game of the Badger Christmas Classic went quickly as Harding Academy dismantled Lonoke 61-22 at Badger Sports Arena on Friday.

The Lady Wildcats (9-2) used a tenacious full-court press to rattle the Lady Jackrabbits (7-6) in the first half, resulting in 12 steals and 16 points off turnovers in the first two quarters. Harding Academy sophomore guard Kaylin Turley was responsible for six of those steals, while sophomore post player Riley Rose put up all of her game-high 23 points in the first half.

Lonoke was without the services of its best scorer and ball handler in sophomore guard Kerasha Johnson due to illness, which allowed the Lady Wildcats to expose her absence in the backcourt with a stifling press. Harding Academy took a 36-10 lead at the half and reached the necessary margin for the sportsmanship/timing rule by the 7:11 mark of the third quarter.

“We were fortunate to come out and play well early,” Lady Wildcats coach Rusty Garner said. “You never know how you’re going to play at 10 in the morning. And to be fair, I know Lonoke is as injury depleted as they come. We just wanted to see if we could jump out early and maybe get a lead so we could take it easy the rest of the day. We’re a little sick and a little banged up. It’s going to be a long three days, so I was glad we jump out to a lead and relax a little bit.”

Lonoke controlled the boards in the first quarter and denied second-chance opportunities for the Lady Wildcats, but struggled when it came to scoring. Sophomore post player Eboni Willis was responsible for six of the Lady ’Rabbits 10 first-half points, earning her baskets the hard way facing a box defense from Harding Academy.

Willis finished with eight points for Lonoke while Amanda Sexton added seven points.

Lonoke also played the game without starting junior Savannah Holmann, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury.

Harding Academy had the advantage from the opening minute with a three-point basket from Turley at the 6:47 mark, followed by an inside basket and free throw by Rose with 5:18 remaining in the opening period for a 6-0 lead. But it was a series of five straight Lonoke possessions that resulted in midcourt steals by Harding Academy to start the second quarter that put the game out of reach. Rose had two of those steals, Turley had two and Shelby Gowan added another as the Lady Wildcats converted all of them to go up 27-4 with 6:06 left to play in the half.

Turley and Rose, both sophomores, have already had a big impact on Lady Wildcat athletics with 3A state track championships last year as freshmen. Rose won the state 100 and 200-meter dashes while Turley is the defending state champ in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 long-distance events.

“She’s pretty athletic,” Garner said of Turley. “She and Riley Rose, they work really well together. They do a great job up there together. They’re a great tandem. One of them has six steals one night, the other one has six steals the next night. They’re tough up top together.”

Turley had two more steals to start the second half before exiting the game midway through the third quarter for a total of eight steals and nine points.

The Lady Wildcat reserve players added to the margin with a pair of three-point baskets late in the third quarter, but Lonoke was able to make up some ground in the final period with an early basket by Willis and five points from Sexton while Rieley Rowton made a three pointer with 1:55 remaining for the Lady ’Rabbits only outside shot of the game.